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Part I. Reason and Faith: The Catholic View

Chapter IV: Catholicism on the Marks of the Church


1 Of the three points in the Catholic view of faith and reason that we set out to study,1 we have examined two. (I) The first was that there is accessible to us a body of revealed truth which, though transcending reason, is still in accordance with reason. We have seen that if ‘accordance with reason’ includes consistency, the body of doctrine accepted as revealed does not appear to fulfil the church's claim for it. (II) The second thesis is that between revealed and natural knowledge there can be no conflict. Our study disclosed, however, that in astronomy, biology, and psychology, the church has formally taken positions not reconcilable with generally accepted scientific conclusions. (III) The third thesis is that the fact of revelation itself can be established rationally by considerations decisive for any open mind. It is this last contention that we shall examine in this chapter.

The question is indeed forced upon us by the results of the first two inquiries. Anyone who found that the content of an alleged revelation was both incoherent in itself and inconsistent with the postulates and conclusions of science would be bound to raise the question whether the revelation had occurred at all. May not the body of doctrine supposed to be revealed be no more than the attempts of earnest and thoughtful but all too human minds to give such account as they could of first and last things? This conclusion, natural enough to modernist or humanist, is firmly resisted by Catholicism. Whatever difficulties there may be in catching the true accents of the supernatural voice, there can be no doubt that it has in fact spoken and that it has spoken through one particular church. This can be amply attested by evidence open to all men. What sort of evidence is this? It is primarily a set of facts about the Scriptures, the church, and its history which are believed to place Christianity in a unique position. They are facts that are unaccountable on any other supposition than that the church has been divinely commissioned and directed. ‘Reason declares’, says Leo XIII in Aeterni Patris, ‘that from the very outset the Gospel teaching was rendered conspicuous by signs and wonders which gave, as it were, definite proof of a definite truth.’

What are these ‘signs and wonders’? They are of very diverse kinds. Catholic apologists commonly divide them into two classes, ‘motives of credibility’ and ‘notes’ or ‘marks’ of the true church. The motives of credibility are a large and miscellaneous set of ‘facts’ regarded as inexplicable by natural causes, such as miracles, the fulfilment of prophecy, the intrinsic impressiveness of Old and New Testaments, and the growth of a small and feeble community into the main church of the Western world. These are considerations that to many reflective minds have seemed compelling, and it would be interesting and instructive to canvass them in detail. Unfortunately this would require a volume of its own, and we have neither time nor space to attempt it.

The omission is less disastrous to the argument than it might seem. There is no sharp line between the ‘motives’ and the ‘marks’; indeed some members of the two classes have at times been interchanged; and one can conjecture from a critic's dealing with one class how he would deal with the other. Furthermore, the marks are logically the more fundamental. For if the evidence put forward as fact under the head of motives of credibility is called in question, for example the occurrence of miracles or the actual fulfilment of prophecy, the apologist commonly falls back on the authority of the church, and if this in turn is questioned, appeal is taken to those notes or marks which authenticate it as the divinely chosen channel of revelation. Hence in confining ourselves to the marks, we are at least dealing with the considerations felt to be most important in rationally validating this authority.

These authenticating or identifying notes have varied in number from the two recognised by Thomas Stapleton—universality in space and permanence in time—to the fourteen enumerated by Cardinal Bellarmine. But for some centuries they have been fixed at four. These were given official sanction at Trent, and have been incorporated into the Mass Creed.2 A church, it is argued, that is (1) one, (2) holy, (3) universal, and (4) apostolic establishes by these marks its claim to more than natural origin and guidance.


2 The unity of the church, if this is to be clearly distinguished from its universality, means its identity in time. For nearly two thousand years its faith, worship, and organisation are held to have stood substantially unchanged. As Macaulay wrote in a famous paragraph: ‘No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers abounded in the Flavian Amphitheatre.… She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished in Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca.’3 And it is contended that through all the centuries of her existence, while the cultures around her were falling into decay, while numberless sects and systems were having their day and ceasing to be, the church alone remained, with her deposit of faith intact. Not only her manner of worship and the form of her organisation, but also those ideal structures that are so hard to preserve against tarnishing by an inhospitable atmosphere, her creeds, she has kept as bright as they were when she received them from the founders. ‘We believe’, said Cardinal Wiseman, ‘that no new doctrine can be introduced into the Church, but that every doctrine which we hold, has existed, and been taught in it ever since the time of the apostles; having been handed down by them to their successors…’.4 According to The Teaching of the Catholic Church, ‘the revelation made to the Apostles, by Christ and by the Holy Spirit when he sent them to teach all truth, was final, definitive. To that body of revealed truth nothing has been, or ever will be, added.’5 Wherever else the ideas of progress and evolution may apply, they do not apply to true religion. Two popes have spoken their mind on this in identical language: ‘These enemies of divine revelation extol human progress to the skies, and with rash and sacrilegious daring would have it introduced into the Catholic religion as if this religion were not the work of God but of man, or some kind of philosophical discovery susceptible of perfection by human efforts.’6 To be sure, some articles of the creed have been formulated more exactly as time went on; new languages in which to express them have come into being, and new techniques for propagating them. But the church's teaching itself has remained one stable body of doctrine, without loss and without addition.

If we were invited to estimate this stability, regarded as a human achievement, we should have much that was admiring to say. But the record is not offered us in that light. It is offered as evidence of an identity so complete as to be humanly inexplicable and to point to supernatural and infallible guidance. Such a claim invites examination of the facts.


3(a) The alleged identity of faith has in fact failed in various ways. It has failed in the first place through inconsistency. We have seen already in the case of Pope Vigilius that official belief may be reversed and re-reversed within the term of a single reign. The precious deposit is in still greater danger when it is passed along from hand to hand, and we may cite an illustrative case or two. Just before he died in 417, Pope Innocent I excommunicated the well known theologian Pelagius and all who accepted his doctrine. In the course of the same year his successor, Pope Zosimus, a Greek, reversed this judgement, declaring for the orthodoxy of the Pelagian doctrines.7 In 1279 Nicholas III issued a bull in which ‘he declared the Franciscan Rule to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and the absolute renunciation of property, practised by the Spiritual Franciscans, to have been practised by Christ and His Apostles, and taught by them to their disciples. Yet, in 1323, John XXII published a bull flatly contradicting his predecessor; it was (he said) a perversion of Scripture to assert the absolute poverty of Christ and His Apostles, and henceforth the doctrine must be condemned as erroneous and heretical.’8 Anyone moved by a malicious interest to study the integrity of doctrine over two hundred and fifty popes instead of one or two would reap a richer crop of inconsistency than such an attitude would deserve.


4(b) The body of teaching has changed through additions. If the changelessness of faith is essential, such additions should not occur, and we have seen that the official attitude of the church regarding dogma is that expressed by Vincent of Lerins: ‘to teach anything to Catholic Christians besides what they have received has never been allowed, is nowhere allowed, never will be allowed.’ For all that, it has certainly occurred. ‘In the Roman Church’, said Dean Salmon, ‘the idea seems to be now abandoned of handing down the Faith “once for all… delivered to the saints”. It is a vast manufactory of beliefs, to which addition is being yearly made.’9

5 The doctrine of Papal infallibility itself is such an addition, as we shall shortly see. But we shall take as our present example the doctrine of purgatory. This must of course be distinguished from the doctrine of hell, on which we may be permitted a few preliminary words. The Catholic is apparently right that the doctrine of hell, namely that those who die in mortal sin will suffer the agony of eternal fire, has been held by the church from the beginning; he would point out that the same gospel of Matthew which narrates the investiture of Peter with the power of the keys lays down this doctrine also; ‘depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels’.10 Here the crucial phrase is εις το πυρ το αιωνιον, and what does that αιωνιον mean? Dean Farrar thought it meant not everlasting but age-long, and wrote a book in passionate advocacy of this view.

‘I call God to witness that so far from regretting the possible loss of some billions of aeons of bliss by attaching to the word αιωνιον a sense in which scores of times it is undeniably found, I would here, and now, and kneeling on my knees, ask Him that I might die as the beasts that perish, and for ever cease to be, rather than that my worst enemy should endure the hell described by Tertullian… or Dr Pusey.…’11

Dr Pusey replied in a volume of remorseless scholarship that in his own opinion and that of ‘the best Greek Oxford Scholar of his day, my friend, the Rev J. Riddell,’ ‘the word was used strictly of eternity, an eternal existence, such as shall be, when time shall be no more’;12 and he proceeded to supply an overwhelming body of testimony to prove that the fathers believed in the same eternity of hell fire for the damned as they did of blessedness for the saved. A doctrine thus taught by both the Scriptures and the fathers must, he held, be accepted, whatever one may think of its morality; one cannot in strict logic deny a doctrine so firmly based without going the whole dark distance to rationalism.

The good doctor may be right. At any rate the Catholic church has been on his side. When Origen advanced a more compassionate doctrine to the effect that the torture of hell might be limited in time, he was condemned by at least three synods and apparently also by the fifth ecumenical council of 553. Augustine argued that since every child is born in original sin, it must, if it dies unbaptised, be punished in the eternal fire of hell, though it would somehow be granted a ‘mitissima poena’ there. Aquinas held that the majority of men are doomed to an eternity of torment every moment of which exceeds the worst that ever has been or can be endured on earth; and though he believed in a milder region of hell set apart for infants, he discouraged mothers from praying for children who died while unbaptised. The Council of Trent followed this up by insisting in its Roman Catechism that the eternal punishment in store for wrongdoers is the sort of agony felt by the senses of the physical body.13 Who are to suffer these pains? The answer, given with the authority of both a Pope, Eugene IV, and an ecumenical council, that of Florence, is as follows:

‘The holy Roman church firmly believes, professes and preaches that no persons who are not within the Catholic church, which means not pagans only, but also Jews, heretics, and schismatics, can become sharers in eternal life, but will go into eternal fire, which has been prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are gathered into this church before the end of their life.’14

Dante finds in hell a generous population who were denied the immortality of the soul. ‘Chrysostom declares his free opinion that the number of bishops who might be saved bore a very small proportion to those who would be damned.’15 In the Syllabus of Errors of Pope Pius IX (1864), one of the propositions expressly condemned is: ‘Men may at least hope for the eternal salvation of those who do not live in the bosom of the true church of Christ’. An Italian priest refused absolution and the sacraments to a parishioner on the grounds that he had professed disbelief in the material fire of hell; the case was taken in 1892 to the Holy Inquisition, presided over by Leo XIII, and the priest's action was formally approved. That the later developments of the doctrine embroider and embellish the original teaching in some degree may well be true, but it is hard to avoid the Catholic conclusion that the stark fact of eternal punishment was taught by both the New Testament and the church fathers.16


6 Of the doctrine of purgatory the same cannot be said. As Dr Salmon points out,

‘For hundreds of years the Church seems to have known little or nothing on the subject… the chief source of Western information is a Latin book, the dialogues of Gregory the Great, a work of which the genuineness has been denied by some merely because it seemed to them incredible that so sensible a man should have written so silly a book.… Gregory, believing twelve or thirteen centuries ago that the end of the world was then near at hand, and that the men of his age, by reason of their nearness to the next world, could see things in it which had been invisible to their predecessors, collected a number of tales of apparitions which, being received on his authority, have been the real foundation of the Western belief in Purgatory.’17

Gregory was Pope from 590 to 604. If the doctrine is to be exhibited as the primitive teaching of the church, the evidence must be drawn from an earlier time. Newman tried to produce such evidence. But he found so little to his purpose that he was driven to include the most shadowy of circumstances. There exists an account of a certain St Perpetua, reported to have been martyred in Carthage in the year 203.

‘In the course of the narrative, St Perpetua prays for her brother Dinocrates, who had died at the age of seven; and has a vision of a dark place, and next of a pool of water, which he was not tall enough to reach. She goes on praying; and in a second vision the water descended to him, and he was able to drink, and went to play as children use. “Then I knew,” she says, “that he was translated from his place of punishment.”’18

Newman was apparently ready to accept tales of this kind as evidence for both the currency of the doctrine of purgatory and its truth; and once convinced of its truth, he was able to detect intimations of it in the Psalms, Job, and Lamentations. It takes a great deal of credulity to find any substantial identity between these faint suggestions and the full-blown doctrine of today.

That doctrine is in fact rather complicated. (1) Souls at death are in one of three states, in mortal sin, in venial sin, or free from sin.19 The latter class ‘pass straight to behold God in heaven’.20 But it is limited in number, including only (a) Christ, (b) Mary, and (c) children who have been baptised but have died before having a chance to do wrong. If they have not been baptised, they are guilty of original sin, that is, the sin brought upon them by their ancestor Adam when he committed the first sin; such infants go to limbo, which is a part of hell, but without the pain of fire. Pius VI in 1794 formally condemned the disbelief in this doctrine.21 Those who die in unforgiven mortal sin go to hell. But there is a large remaining class, including all whose mortal sins are forgiven in this life but have some punishment still due them, and all who die in merely venial sin. Such persons go to purgatory. (2) This is not a place of probation and continued trial, but of punishment; ‘these souls are more helpless than we; they can do nothing whatever for their sins but suffer.…’22 (3) The period of their suffering varies. For some it will be concluded only by the last judgement: ‘all the souls that are to go to heaven will at that judgment be reunited with their bodies and enter into their everlasting reward.’23 Others will serve terms varying with the depth of their sin and with the number and kind of steps taken to get them out. The theory of their escape is again somewhat complicated. It implies the existence of a large reservoir of grace which has been accumulated by the suffering of certain persons beyond their deserts.

‘Thus Christ's atonement being infinite is inexhaustible, and all the sins of the world can be expiated by it. Moreover, the saints have often made satisfaction in excess of what they require for their own sins. This satisfactory value of their acts, not being used for themselves, remains in existence and can be used for others.’24

The church has been granted the keys to this reservoir, and may draw upon it for indulgences, that is, formal remissions of temporal punishment. Such indulgences secure the release from the treasury of limited quantities of grace, which are placed to the credit of the soul suffering in purgatory and reduce by so much the duration of his sentence.

Indulgences are usually granted for a consideration of some kind, though the consideration includes a right spirit on the part of the petitioner. Thus the popes used indulgences extensively to secure men for the Crusades, and money for the building of St Peter's; their sale by the Papal emissary Tetzel was a precipitating cause of the Reformation. The price paid for the remission and the amount of punishment remitted have been equated at times with singular exactness. There is at Rome a set of twenty-eight stone steps, now roofed and enclosed, which have been believed for centuries to be the steps of Pilate's palace at Jerusalem, up which Jesus walked to his trial.

‘A notice at the foot of them informs the public that Pius VII (1800–1823) has granted the Christian worshipper a release of nine years from Purgatory for every step ascended by him on his knees in prayer. In 1908 Pius X granted a plenary indulgence for every devout ascent.’25

Indulgences of varying value may be secured also for the souls of friends or relatives suffering in purgatory. The government of this supernatural region and the state of its inhabitants were made the object of a special study in England by Father Frederick W. Faber, the hymn-writer, who followed Newman to Rome, and in France by the Abbé Louvet. Dr Salmon, in reviewing the latter's work, reports its curiously precise conclusion that

‘a Christian of more than usual sanctity, who has never committed a mortal sin, who has carefully avoided all the graver venial sins, and has satisfied by penance for three-fourths of the lighter sins into which frailty has led him, must expect to spend in Purgatory 123 years, 3 months, and 15 days.’26

Why recite these details? Merely to show how implausible is the claim that the church teaches nothing but the faith as first delivered. Whether one takes the doctrine of Purgatory as accepted by uncritical devotees or as officially taught by Pope and councils, one will find nothing of the kind in the New Testament or in any apostolic teaching. That teaching, as we have seen, was not free from its own dark imaginings. But this particular province in the geography of Hades, with its graduated penalties and its bizarre eschatological banking system, in which drafts drawn by a living person on a supernatural fund may be used to shorten proportionally the agonies of being burnt, imposed by a Deity who is also represented as infinitely loving, was not derived from the mind of Jesus or Peter or Paul. It was an addition imposed by the superstition, terror, and inhumanity of the Dark Ages.


7 How hard it is to find present dogma in primitive thought is illustrated again by two dogmas regarding the Virgin that the church added to prescribed belief in a little less than a century: that of her immaculate conception (1854) and that of her bodily translation into heaven (1950). The first doctrine means that Mary was from her conception free from original sin. It is true that this doctrine had a history that goes back beyond 1854; Pius X reported that ‘the Hebrew patriarchs were familiar with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and found consolation in the thought of Mary in the solemn moments of their life’.27 It would be interesting to have Newman's comment on this flight of historical imagination, for, as Dr Salmon has pointed out,

‘His own inclinations had not favoured any extravagant cult of the Virgin Mary, and he was too well acquainted with Church History not to know that the doctrine of her Immaculate Conception was a complete novelty, unknown to early times, and, when first put forward, condemned by some of the most esteemed teachers of the Church.’28

Though present in the deposit of faith from the beginning, it was somehow missed by eyes as sharp as St Anselm's, and St Bonaventura's, and St Thomas's, and St Bernard's (who thought it a preposterous notion); indeed the Papacy did not feel safe in promoting it to a place among dogmas necessary for salvation until the idea had been debated for some four hundred years. As for the most recent addition to the creed, the bodily assumption of the Virgin into heaven,

‘There is not a particle of Scripture proof for it. It was not recognised by the great teachers of the Church for almost six centuries, and then narrated by a credulous French bishop whose compilations of miraculous stories are unworthy of serious consideration. In the Breviary until 1570 there was incorporated a lection discountenancing the story, and Pope Benedict XIV in the 18th century declared the tradition was not of a kind sufficient to rank as an Article of Faith. Yet in 1950 Pope Pius XII announces it is a truth revealed to the Church by the Holy Ghost; and the millions of his spiritual subjects receive his decree as final, unquestionable, divinely authorised. It is his prerogative to add to the original Gospel.’29

The apologetics by which such dogmas are found in Christian beginnings will persuade no one who does not wish to be persuaded. When an issue like that of the immaculate conception, the number of the sacraments, or the Trinity, has been the subject of debate for centuries, and the outcome has depended, so far as human eye can see, on historical contingencies that might well have been otherwise, to say that the victorious doctrine is only a freshly discovered component of what the fathers had held from the beginning is all too plainly a rationalisation.


8 Apologists sometimes maintain that when such doctrines have at last been defined they represent not an addition to the creed but merely a ‘development’ of it. Revealed truth was not at first understood, and hence lay unrecognised for generations before the interpreters gathered its true sense. ‘Finally scrutinizing with fresh care the deposit of revelation, they there discovered the pious opinion, hitherto concealed, as far as they were concerned, in the more general formula, and, not satisfied to hold it as true, they declared it revealed.’30 The best known defence of this theory is Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Newman wanted to believe that all the teachings now held by the church to be essential were included in the deposit of faith given to the Apostles and espoused by the fathers. When he came to examine the writings of these persons, however, it became plain to him that over and over again—on purgatory, on the adoration of the Virgin, on transubstantiation, on the books to be accepted as inspired, even on the Trinity—the convictions of the early writers were not those of the present church. ‘There are three great theological authors of the Ante-nicene centuries,’ he noted, ‘Tertullian, Origen, and, we may add, Eusebius, though he lived some way into the fourth. Tertullian is heterodox on the doctrine of our Lord's divinity, and, indeed, ultimately fell altogether into heresy or schism; Origen is, at the very least, suspected, and must be defended and explained rather than cited as a witness of orthodoxy; and Eusebius was a Semi-Arian.’31 Such discoveries were deeply disturbing. The question of immediate importance, however, was not whether the fathers agreed among themselves—they did not—but whether the dogmas now held by the church had been held by the fathers at all. Here the idea of development seemed to provide a saving bridge. The oak is not identical with the acorn, yet as a development of it is in some sense the same. The green shoot and the ripened wheat, the child and the man, are not the same, yet we do call them the same. May we not continue to say that the present creed of the church, different as it is from that of the primitive church, is still the same in the sense of being a continuous development from it?

Between the two Vatican Councils there has been a singular change in the Catholic estimation of the essay and its author. At the first Council he was considered by Monsignor Talbot, the English private secretary to the Pope, as ‘the most dangerous man in England’. At the second, his theory was appealed to as a valuable support by ‘the new theologians’; indeed his spirit, according to one observer, Christopher Hollis, seemed to dominate the proceedings. But the famous essay does not give a very firm base for the doctrine of the unity of the church.

For (1) what it does is not so much to explain that unity as to explain it away. If all we mean, for example, by asserting a recognition of the Pope's authority from the first is that the gradual concentration of power in his hands was a natural development from the position and organisation of the early church, then the original meaning of ‘unity’ has disappeared. Such unity would not preclude our holding that neither the authority nor the belief in it was present in the early church at all. As C. D. Broad has said: ‘You have no right whatever to say that the end is just the beginning in disguise if, on inspecting the end as carefully and fairly as you can, you do not detect the characteristics of the beginning in it and do detect characteristics which were not present in the beginning’.

(2) The theory therefore tends to nullify the dogma of infallibility. How can one hold that any doctrine warranted by the church at a given time is true until one sees the riper form into which it will develop? If the primacy of Peter was potentially present and infallibly true in the minds of persons who did not suspect its being there and even supposed they meant the opposite; and if, when the church now promulgates an infallible truth, its real meaning is as remote from our present sense of it as the present meaning of Roman primacy is from that of the primitive church, then what exactly is it that at a given time is to be taken as infallible? We cannot certainly know, and what we accept as infallible truth may be a mistake.

(3) The theory is bound to end in question-begging or self-refutation. If, for example, only those dogmas are selected as true developments that belong to the Catholic branch of the church, as opposed to those of the Greek and Anglican branches, which have grown from the same trunk, one will hardly convince these other branches that no parti pris has entered in. On the other hand, if the teachings of these other branches are also accepted as true ‘developments’, some of them, e.g. the denial of Roman primacy, will cancel those of the Catholic line, and then a genuine ‘development’ of the primitive creed may be false. The theory is unsatisfactory in either case.


9(c) The faith has changed by loss as well as by addition. It is hardly to be expected, of course, that doctrines known to have been formally adopted in early times should be formally rescinded later; but the church's deposit of faith is not confined to formal pronouncements. It includes much that has been handed down in oral tradition, such as the keeping of Sunday rather than Saturday, the importance of infant baptism, and the legitimacy of taking oaths. Now to suppose that all the elements in patristic tradition have survived in the faith of today requires a very hardy power of belief. To take but one example, the church of the early centuries recognised masses of saints and martyrs, whose figures are adorned in early records with glittering prodigies and miracles. Some of these persons are remembered in the calendar; some of them have left fragmentary bones or garments which are alleged to have a mysterious medical potency and still attract flocks of the credulous. But many of them have simply faded out, even from the embalmments of ecclesiastical memory, and their miracles, if recalled at all, are told as legend rather than as history. Who, for example, was St Bettelin? Newman, full of fervour about the fathers even in his Anglican days, gave to the young James Anthony Froude the task of writing the life of this saint. Froude did so, and the investigation that it required helped to engender the revolt of that great historian against the church. In the sardonic last sentence of his study he wrote that ‘this is all that is known, and more than all’, of St Bettelin; the saint was so encrusted with legend that genuine history was out of the question. These legends were once accepted in all good faith. No critical mind of the present, not even that of the best disposed Catholic theologian can swallow this mythology whole. The St Bettelins rest in peace.32


10 The second note by which the church may be distinguished from all merely human bodies is its sanctity. ‘The Church has ever claimed’, says the Jesuit writer G. H. Joyce, ‘that she, as a society, is holy in a transcendent degree’. ‘It is further manifest’, says the article on sanctity as a mark of the church in the Catholic Encyclopedia, ‘that the Church's holiness must be of an entirely supernatural character—something altogether beyond the power of unassisted human nature’. Good men may and do exist outside the Catholic fold, but their goodness is of that relatively flat kind that is unleavened by supernatural grace. The goodness of the saints is unique. ‘Outside the Catholic Church the world has nothing to show which can in any degree compare with them.’ The virtues that are fundamental in the Christian ethic—charity, humility, chastity, the ‘love of suffering’—are held to be foreign to any secular morality, both in conception and exemplification.

Now the last thing in the world which any responsible critic would wish to do is to belittle goodness, under whatever creed or sky it may appear. Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier and Father Damien are flowers of mankind; and thousands of others have proved magnificently the power of faith to extract greatness out of what looked like ordinary clay. There has been no St Francis outside Catholicism. Granted all this and much more, the truth remains (a) that goodness in full measure does occur without supernatural sanctions, and (b) that the morality which claims such sanctions may be wanting in principle as well as in practice.


11(a) Religious belief often stimulates and strengthens moral purpose; true. The thought of a divine person commanding us to do right, feeling pleasure when we obey and grief or anger when we do not, certainly provides an additional motive for right-doing. Still, such belief is not the true ground for morality, and, when so accepted, may obstruct the passage to moral maturity. The man who is morally mature prefers love to hate, happiness to misery, and knowledge to ignorance, not because God wills that he should so choose, or because he will be rewarded or punished for his choice. Indeed if he wills something merely because God wills it, he is in strictness failing to follow the divine example, since God presumably wills it not because he wills it—a hardly intelligible suggestion—but because it is good. And so far as one prefers good for the sake of a prospective reward, one is like the child whose ‘goodness’ is bought with chocolates.

From this sort of confusion, at any rate, the man whose guide is rational insight is free. The ends of his life are set neither by dictation nor by an eschatological bait, but by such discernment as he has of good and evil. If his ethics are a poor thing, they are at least his own. There is a depth of moral responsibility and seriousness in the religious liberal that among devotees of authority is too uncommon. Conduct controlled by such authentic vision has a purity and authority about it superior to those even of the saint in the Catholic enclosure. In the mind of the saint, theology and morals are intertwined. The fall of the theological trellis upon which his ethical convictions are trained would carry down everything with it in limp collapse. Cut out from the mind of St Francis what he owed to his childlike faith in a Providence that watched the sparrows fall, and what would become of the gay nonchalance toward fate and pain that makes him the lyric figure that he is? Now the rationalist is not a lyric figure. If he tried to see the world as St Francis saw it, he would seem to himself not childlike but childish. To attempt it would be to do what he had taught himself that he must not do, namely harden poetry into fact, mix value and existence, and as Santayana puts it, ‘fuse his physics with his visions’. He sees that much of the world in which St Francis lived—small, intimate, domestic, supervised by paternal loves and mandates—is, to speak plainly, such stuff as dreams are made of. To accept that fact would have put out the sun for St Francis. The rationalist can look a bleak truth in the face and know that, in spite of it, life may be good. His summum bonum is not the rider to a precarious creed. His morals are self-subsistent. To be sure, they have taken a sober colouring from the facts of man's place in nature; they do not show the prodigal courage that can throw a life away, certain that in the end it will be restored with interest, or the kind of equanimity that can afford to ignore its losses in the knowledge that they will all be made good in the end. Such courage and equanimity are enviable. Perhaps there is only one thing more enviable, namely the courage and equanimity that persist when such assurance has been withdrawn.


12(b) Indeed when the claim of a unique sanctity is put forward for ecclesiastical morality, one is constrained to point out that the claim is hardly justified either by the ideal of that morality or by the way in which it has been put into effect. The reader may have noticed that among the virtues cited as specifically Catholic, or as unrecognised outside the pale, is ‘the love of suffering’. Here is a point at which a theological ethics will differ sharply from a merely rational ethics. St Paul and many of the fathers believed that it would be imputed to us for righteousness both here and hereafter if we met the seductions of ‘the flesh’ more than half way and planted an occasional thorn in it before nature did so for us. The lives of the saints are full of self-mortification, whose strange refinements have been described in a well known chapter by Lecky; and though the faithful are not now encouraged to go to the former extremes, these lives are still held up as exemplary, and many survivals of the original attitude are still to be found—for example, the teaching that the celibate life is essentially superior to the non-celibate. Of course the capacity to endure privation is a good thing, and there is no doubt that this capacity can be increased by exercise; William James thought we should all be better for doing daily something that we disliked.

But it is difficult to see that ‘the love of suffering’ has any sound basis at all, nor is it likely that anyone should have supposed so apart from theological prepossessions. Suffering is intrinsically evil. Its gratuitous infliction on anybody, oneself or others, is irrational, and is not made rational by being done for theological reasons. The objection to handing over to theology the decision in such matters is that there are no scales in which theological values can be weighed against human values, and hence that merciful men may find their humanity cancelled by vague, vast mandates that admit of no question. It is only too easy to find historical illustrations. Those who followed the advice of the mediaeval Witches’ Hammer and broke the bodies of eccentric old women probably believed that they were acting mercifully; for was it not well that such a one should suffer acutely for a limited time if she could be saved thereby from unlimited suffering hereafter? Indeed it was suggested in the handbook just named, which was issued with Papal approval to the examiners, that before they put their victim on the rack to extort a confession from her they should petition an angel to release her from the Devil's control, since otherwise he might save her from the full agony of the torture and so cheat them of their confession. There is no answer to that logic if you grant the examiners their theological premise. The only way to meet them is to deny their right to hold such premises at all. It is far more certain that their victim's suffering was hellish than that there is a hell to save her from. To say that the theological apparatus of heaven, hell, and purgatory on which they based their torture equalled in certainty the evil of her suffering reveals a tragic failure either of humanity, of intellectual responsibility, or more probably of both.

Happily this form of cruelty belongs to the past; the pressures of secular ethics and the church's own teaching of love have mellowed a barbaric theology. But they have not mellowed it enough. One contemporary example must suffice. Until 1973 the laws of New York and New Jersey permitted abortion only to save the life of the mother. Even when a pregnancy was due to incest or rape, or there was a virtual certainty that the child would be born deformed, the mother was bound to carry the foetus to term and accept the consequences in misery. Let us be quite specific. Mrs Irwin Gleitman of North Arlington, New Jersey, contracted German measles in the early days of a pregnancy. She would have much preferred a medically competent abortion to running the grave risk of bearing a deformed and defective child. She consulted two obstetricians who, she reported, gave her no warning of the danger and no help in averting it. Her son Jeffrey was born blind, deaf, dumb, and mentally retarded. When he was seven years old the parents, in their sorrow and frustration, brought suit against the two doctors for neglect of medical duty. The state supreme court, by a vote of four to three, decided that under the law the doctors had neither the duty nor the right to terminate her pregnancy, whatever her desire or whatever the likelihood of a defective child.33

Repeated efforts were made to liberalise such state laws against abortion, and in 1973 the Supreme Court stepped in and struck them down. But the efforts were uniformly met by determined and organised Catholic opposition. When Assemblyman Albert Blumenthal introduced a measure of relaxation in 1967, the eight Catholic bishops of the state of New York organised a state-wide campaign against the measure, issuing a pastoral letter that urged all Catholics to fight against it with ‘all their power’.34 What is the ground of such opposition? It is not really humanitarian. If it were, it could not have held out against the facts that 85 per cent of the state's gynaecologists and 90 per cent of its psychiatrists had, in polls, favoured reforming the law, along with the New York Academy of Medicine, the New York county and state medical societies, and the state obstetrical and gynaecological societies. No, the ground of the opposition was theological. Catholic doctrine holds that the foetus, from the moment of conception, is an immortal soul, that to remove it is murder, that such murder, even of a foetus the size of a thimble, is a mortal sin which could condemn the mother to hell, and that if the foetus dies unbaptised, it goes to limbo rather than heaven. Of course, if these doctrines are true, the interventions of the church in medicine are more than justified, and the doctor is only doing his duty in steeling himself against the temporal misery of a patient in the interest of her eternal safety. But if, as we shall maintain, there is an ethics of belief, then it is also the doctor's duty to consider whether his certainty of the Roman eschatology equals the certainty of his patient's suffering.

The problem arises again with respect to animals. Just as a human foetus, even below the conscious level, has an immortal soul and must be treated accordingly, so, in a theological ethic, an animal has no soul and may be treated accordingly. And just as the result is a factitious solicitude on the one hand, so it is an inhumane callousness on the other. Northern travellers in the Catholic countries of southern Europe have often noted the comparatively unfeeling treatment of animals. ‘The Church has always taught,’ writes Bertrand Russell, ‘and still teaches, that man has no duties towards the lower animals; on this ground Pope Pius IX regarded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as ethically heretical, and forbade the establishment of a branch in Rome.’35

So far, then, as the Catholic ideal of right conduct depends on speculative notions that are unverified and unverifiable, it is a flawed ideal. We may admit that if that ideal, flawed as it is, had been adhered to in practice, the world would be a better place to live in. Unfortunately, it has not been adhered to, even at the highest levels. The College of Cardinals that elects the head of the church seeks, and is supposed to receive, divine guidance, but, in view of some of its elections, one can only conclude that its line of communications has at times been broken. If Alexander VI were the citizen of a civilised country today and maintained the level of conduct he did as Pope, he could not have remained out of prison. It would be utterly unjust to generalise from such cases, nor do I have any intention of doing so. A historical generalisation requires much evidence; the refutation of one requires little. Against the contention that Catholic faith has radiated so intense and general a sanctity among those who have held it as to afford proof of supernatural guidance, it is perhaps enough to record without enlargement a comment of the Catholic historian Lord Acton: ‘If a man accepts the Papacy with confidence, admiration and unconditional obedience, he must have made terms with murder.’36


13 ‘The third mark of the Church’, says a sixteenth-century catechism, ‘is that she is Catholic, that is, universal; and justly is she called Catholic, because, as St Augustine says, “she is diffused by the splendour of one faith from the rising to the setting sun”.’ Her founder left instructions: ‘Go ye therefore and teach all nations’; ‘ye shall be witnesses to me… even to the uttermost parts of the earth’. These instructions have been followed. The Catholic church has gone everywhere. It had reached America long before the Pilgrim fathers; it was in India long before the East India Company; it was carried by Francis Xavier to Japan, China, and the South Pacific, and by a devoted host of other missionaries to every country of South America. It draws no colour line. It admits no one because he is rich, excludes no one because he is poor, nor does it, like Marxism, split the world into social classes. Of all institutions it is the most international and cosmopolitan. Yet through all this diversity, so the argument runs, the faith is absolutely the same. There are Indian Catholics, but there is no Indian Catholicism. Although, in diffusing itself through the world, the faith has been filtered through innumerable differing temperaments, races, and cultures, the same product has emerged everywhere. If Catholicism were a merely human creation, the differences of culture in which it has lived would inevitably have made of it one thing here and a different thing there. They have conspicuously not done so. How is this to be explained except by saying that the faith is a donation from without, given to all from the same source?

14 Now unity in diversity may be a powerful argument. If a hundred men at random are asked independently who is the best candidate for an office, and they all respond with the same name, their agreement would be a weighty testimony for the candidate. If a hundred physicists from as many countries were asked to appraise the evidence on which a new theory was advanced, and they all reported that it was demonstrative, the theory would be placed virtually beyond doubt. But if such testimony is to carry weight, one condition is essential, namely that the verdict of each judge be given independently. What makes the final unanimity significant is that since each opinion was free to move in a different direction, the final convergence must be due to the force of the evidence. If it were discovered, on our first instance, that among the qualifications for voting was a prior pledge to support one candidate, or in our second case that no physicist was regarded as qualified to pass judgement unless he had already approved the theory, the consilience of opinion would be worthless.

Unfortunately the argument from universality is very like this. If Catholics from the four quarters of the compass all speak with the same voice on fundamentals, it is because one who spoke with a heretical voice would forthwith cease to be a Catholic. There is comparative peace within the fold because those who would most ably disturb it have been excluded. In regard to this mark of universality, the Catholic thus faces an alternative. If the testimony is admitted only of those who will give the right answer, the argument so obviously begs the question as to be valueless. If the suffrage is widened enough to ensure such value, the argument gives the opposite result from what was intended. A poll of all who had examined the body of Catholic dogma with some approach to objectivity would reveal the widest diversity of result. Even if it were confined to those who claimed the Catholic name, the result would hardly be different, since there has been controversy within the church from the beginning. Indeed when the dissidents have not been cut off promptly, they have sometimes swelled into a majority and threatened the enthronement of heresy. ‘When Athanasius was “contra mundum”, the Church was to all appearances virtually unanimous in her Arianism; but no Catholic would admit that Arianism was therefore true.’37 As a rule, Papal decrees have been promulgated precisely to put an end to such controversy. Hence ‘it is not too much to say, that every council has been called, every Papal edict issued, because Catholicity had already been lost’.38 The unity that the church now exhibits has been achieved by a process, continued through many centuries, of cutting off angular dissidents on the right and awkward protestant prominences on the left till the body that remained was a nicely rounded whole. Such unity attests nothing but the efficiency of the Holy Office.39


15 The fourth mark of the church is its apostolicity. This means two things; first, that there is an unbroken ‘apostolic succession’ by which the authority given to Peter has been conveyed through the long chain of his successors to the present Pope; second, that in all the stages of that succession the faith, worship, and organisation of the apostolic church have been reproduced. Great store is placed upon the first consideration, for the authority of all bishops and priests is derived ultimately from Christ himself through his vicar in Rome, and the invalid election of a Pope would invalidate all the orders consecrated by him. The second consideration sums up and gives point to the first and third notes of the church; it reminds us that the faith and practice already described as single and universal are also those which had the warrant of direct approval by Christ and his Apostles. What are we to say of this double mark?


16 As for the claim to an unbroken chain, its strength cannot exceed that of the weakest link in the chain. Unhappily the weak links are many, and they grow weaker as we follow the chain backward into the mists of antiquity. ‘The lists of early Popes and bishops have no value’ wrote Dean Inge. ‘In all probability there was, properly speaking, no bishop of Rome before the reign of Hadrian.’40 If any link is the most important, it is the first, since all others depend upon it; so we shall do well to examine it with some care. What reason is there to believe that the Catholic church was instituted by Christ himself? The church rests the case chiefly on some well known verses in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew. Jesus asked the disciples, ‘Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?’ and they replied that some took him for John the Baptist, some for Elijah, some for Jeremiah. When he persisted, ‘But whom say ye that I am?’ Peter answered ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’. Then came the momentous reply:

17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18 And I say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19 And I will give unto thee keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The central words of this passage are inscribed in gigantic golden letters around the interior of the dome of St Peter's. It is no wonder that those who take the passage at face value should regard it as conclusive. The more closely it is examined, however, the clearer it becomes how unfirm a foundation it affords for the structure the church has built upon it. We may well remind ourselves of some of the reasons that have led non-Catholic scholars to think it a foundation of sand.41


17(1) There is grave doubt whether the words were ever uttered by Jesus at all. None of the other three gospels reports them, which is an astonishing fact if they are really the Magna Carta of the Christian church. The passage is not recorded even in the gospel of Mark, which is the specially Petrine gospel, described by Justin Martyr as ‘the memoirs of Peter’, supposed to be largely based on Peter's own recollections and written by his intimate friend and travelling companion. Is it credible that, in this gospel above all, the most important incident of Peter's life, namely the conferring upon him of the headship of the Christian church, should, if it actually occurred, have passed unnoticed? The incidents before and after it are reported by both Mark and Luke very much as they are in Matthew, but this particular passage appears in neither. Furthermore, its failure to appear in Luke suggests that it also failed to appear in Q, the collection of the sayings of Jesus which, together with Mark, was the chief source upon which Matthew and Luke relied, and hence that it had no place in either of the two chief sources of the synoptic gospels. Once more, the language of the passage is uncharacteristic, so much so as to raise further question of its genuineness. Jesus speaks continually of ‘the kingdom of God’ and ‘the kingdom of heaven’; he almost never speaks, as here, of ‘the church’ (ekklesia), and in the only other place in which he does so, he uses the term in a different sense. The famous passage is thus an anomaly. ‘It makes its appearance sixty years after the death of Jesus, in the last redaction of our Gospel of Matthew, which is a compilation of the diverse elements,’42 and ‘It is probable that the passage is an interpolation made in the interests of the rapidly developing official ministry, the origin of which it was desired to throw back into the first age.’43

This conclusion receives further support from the context. Immediately after the passage in which Peter is alleged to have been made the head of the church and granted the keys to heaven itself, it is recorded that he received a direct and unsparing censure from his Master. Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection; Peter declared that he disbelieved the prediction; whereupon Jesus ‘turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men’ (Matt. 16:23). Mark faithfully reports this rebuke (8:33) with no mention of the accolade which in Matthew just precedes it. That a friend and biographer of Peter should thus record the rebuke without the honour clearly increases the probability of the first and diminishes that of the second. And the second is rendered still more improbable by the incongruity of its tone with what immediately follows. We are told that a person has been made the head of the church and the vicar of Christ, only to hear Christ himself describing him within four verses as ‘Satan’ and ‘an offence unto me’—surely singular words to stand as the first recorded greeting to the first of the popes.

To be sure, there is evidence enough that Peter was a leading figure among the disciples and was held by his Master in special esteem. But there is no evidence whatever that his Master treated him as his spokesman, mediator, and vicar-general. Indeed the very powers which are supposed to have been reserved for Peter and his successors he expressly delegated to the Apostles generally. ‘And when he had said this, he breathed on them and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.’ It was to the Apostles as a group that he said this, not to one alone.


18(2) These fellow Apostles were strangely unaware of Peter's primacy. They argued among themselves as to who was the greatest among them, just as if this had not already been settled; and James and John requested the seats at his right and left hand in the kingdom, giving no intimation in their request, nor their Master in his answer, that Peter stood first. When the group of Apostles at Jerusalem, whose recognised head, by the way, was not Peter but James, the brother of Jesus, wished to give moral support to some new Christians in Samaria, they ‘sent forth to them Peter and John’ (Acts 8:14). Such a report, entirely natural if Peter held a rough equality with his fellows, is strangely casual if one of the emissaries sent on the errand was the head of the whole Christian church. Peter was soundly rebuked by Paul for a wrong conception of what Christian conduct implied (‘I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed’ [Galatians 2:11]), which is oddly irreverent treatment of the supreme judge on earth of what Christian conduct meant. In the same chapter Paul mentions that on his visit to Jerusalem he found there ‘James, Cephas [i.e. Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars,’ without any indication that even among these local ‘pillars’ Peter stood out; indeed Paul speaks of him as the special agent to the ‘circumcision’, the Jews, while he was himself the special agent to the ‘uncircumcision’, which was the larger part of the world. Even Peter himself does not seem to have been aware of his pre-eminence. The New Testament contains two letters accepted by the church as unquestionably his. There is no suggestion in these letters that he is the head of the church, and far from speaking as the prince of a permanent organisation, he tells his correspondents that ‘the end of all things is at hand’ (1 Peter 4:7). This itself is a singular pronouncement to come from one endowed with infallibility, for it was a presently exposed mistake.


19(3) The picture remains much the same if we widen the context from the Apostles to the church fathers. They too seem to have lived in ignorance of Peter's unique role. ‘I believe indeed’, writes Bishop Gore after careful study of the matter, ‘that none of the Greek Fathers of the first six centuries connects the position of the Bishop of Rome with the promise to St Peter’; the papal interpretation ‘cannot show in its favour anything approaching to a consent of the fathers—indeed there is something much nearer consent in a view which excludes it…’.44 Irenaeus, who died about 202, speaks of Peter and Paul as founders jointly of the church at Rome;45 and when a bishop of that church, Victor, tried to ‘excommunicate’ certain persons for celebrating Easter on the wrong day, Irenaeus, far from accepting the verdict, openly rebuked the alleged head of the church for his attitude. Tertullian (about 150–230), who was perhaps the first to state the monarchical theory of Peter's position, himself rejected it.46 Origen (about 185–253) argues that the foundation of the church was not Peter alone, but the Apostles generally. The most distinguished theologian of the next century, St Hippolytus, denounced the then bishop of Rome as a dangerous heresiarch—an impossible position for anyone who believed that bishop to be the final judge of heresy. During the controversy over the Nicene creed, the bishop of Rome, Liberius (of whom, by the way, St Jerome remarked that he had ‘subscribed to heretical depravity’), notified St Athanasius that he had excommunicated him. If Liberius had been accepted as Pope in the modern sense, Athanasius would have felt blasted and crushed; as a matter of fact he expresses only sorrow that another good man (he classes the bishop of Rome with the bishop of Cordova) should have shown weakness. In the next century, the fifth, St Cyril of Alexandria still refers to St James as of ‘equal honour’ with Peter. The fathers were not even agreed as to the interpretation of the famous passage about the rock, and St Chrysostom and St Augustine both gave more than one interpretation of it within their own writings. Chrysostom thought, furthermore, that the statement about Peter of which Catholic apologists have made so much, that Christ ‘prayed for him that his strength fail not’, far from being a testimony to Peter's pre-eminence, was an indication of his special need for help; he had recently betrayed his Master.

But one may go further. Was Peter ever bishop of Rome at all? It is far from certain. Sabatier writes: ‘The most mythical part of the legend is the supposed episcopate of Peter. No writer of the early centuries speaks of any such episcopate.… It is not until much later, with intent to articulate the episcopate more closely with the apostolate, that Peter was admitted to the series of bishops as the first link in the mystic chain on which all the other links depended.’47 And ‘there are discrepancies in the earliest lists of Roman Bishops which seem quite unaccountable on the assumption that this office, and the question of its first occupant, were originally recognised as matters of unique importance.’48


20(4) The position ascribed to Peter is inconsistent with the attitude of the early councils. There were many and bitter disputes over doctrine that could have been cleared up promptly if the members had known that there was an infallible voice among them; yet even at the great Council of Nicaea (325), where the divinity of Christ itself was at issue, it seems not to have occurred to them to let the Roman bishop decide; indeed he was not present at the Council at all. For that matter, when the issue of infallibility was raised for final decision in 1870, the church's leading scholars, men of such stature as Döllinger, Hefele, Dupanloup, and Acton, thought the contention almost absurd that early Christians had accepted an infallible Roman pontiff; Newman agreed; and at the council called to define the dogma, more than two hundred bishops expressed themselves as dissatisfied or avoided voting.49 They may have reflected that it hardly became them to be certain when primitive councils themselves were so very far from certain. The Council of Chalcedon of 451, while allowing a precedence in prestige to the bishop of Rome ‘because it was the imperial city’, ‘assigned an equal precedence to the most holy throne of new Rome,’ that is, Constantinople.50 We have already noted that at the Sixth General Council, that of Constantinople in 680, a step was taken that would have been out of the question if even then the successor of Peter had possessed the powers now ascribed to him; the Council anathematised the bishop of Rome and cast him out of the church for heresy.51 The testimony of the ecumenical councils may thus be added to that of the Apostles and the fathers against the Catholic view of Peter's position.


21(5) A consideration of another kind tends to the same result. Is it credible, in view of Jesus’ expectations regarding the impending end of the world, that he should have inaugurated an ecclesiastical government designed for permanency? Over and over again he says unequivocally that human history is to reach its final pageant in his own generation.52 If this was his belief, how could he also have sought to found an enduring church on the ‘rock’ of Peter, and to secure the transmission of the power of the keys to a series of his successors? In so acting, he would have been going counter to his own express and repeated statements about his early return.

The Catholic church believes that Jesus not only made Peter its first head but also ordained its enduring constitution, dogmas, and rites. He instituted its hierarchical order; he prescribed its seven sacraments; he gave directions regarding its membership and its conduct of affairs; he set up a class of church officials with special powers and privileges; he arranged for the transmission of an infallible deposit of faith; he identified the kingdom of heaven on earth, as Augustine did the ‘city of God’, with the Catholic church. How strange this all becomes if at the same time he was looking forward to the final catastrophe in a few years! Catholic scholarship has, of course, felt the difficulty. It has dealt with it through trying to suppress it by decree. Pope Pius X in his bull Lamentabili (1907) outlawed the proposition: ‘it was foreign to the mind of Christ to establish on earth a church destined to last through a long series of centuries, but rather that in his mind the kingdom of heaven was to come shortly, together with the end of the world.’53 The Biblical Commission of the Papacy laid it down in 1915 that even the Apostles did not regard the coming of the kingdom as imminent. Such measures suggest that in view of Scriptural history, the church's position needed vigorous shoring up. There is virtually nothing in the New Testament that can be construed as an attempt either to constitute or to legislate for an ecclesiastical organisation, and popes themselves have been driven to such imaginative flights as that of Innocent III, who claimed that when Peter leaped into the sea, this sea meant the world as a whole, over which he—and Innocent—were to rule. But the church is committed to taking the words of Scripture seriously. And the evidence that Jesus accepted and announced the earthly end of human history is so unequivocal that if a humble layman had denied it instead of the head of the church one would expect him to be anathematised. The prediction is reiterated with a passionate emphasis. If we have to choose between accepting this prediction as authentic and accepting the hypothesis that Jesus was laying down the law for a permanent ecclesiastical hierarchy, it is the hierarchy that must go.


22(6) One more consideration: it is commonly argued by Catholic apologists that unless the first link in the chain were unbreakable, the whole could not have held; the fact that it has in fact held is therefore proof of the soundness of this first link. The meteoric ascension of an obscure and feeble sect, in the course of a few centuries, to the dominant religious force in the Western world is inexplicable except on the supposition that it was launched from a rock of more than human firmness and that its course was charted by a supernatural hand. That course is indeed most impressive, and this is one conceivable account of it. But there are difficulties. The church has not invariably conducted itself in such a manner as to make this explanation inevitable. Great councils have made decisions after acrimonious debate and by narrow margins; human ambitions and personal animosities have competed with genuine humility and piety for the control of the church's policy; it has produced saints on the one hand and Borgias and Torquemadas on the other in confusing numbers; and for an institution with supernatural support, its halt by the Reformation and its overturn in Russia raise obvious questions.

Is there any plausible alternative to the Roman account of its origin and growth? The materials for such an alternative are far richer than they used to be. To the factors discussed by Gibbon in his famous fifteenth and sixteenth chapters—such factors as the austere morality of the early Christians as compared with the depravity and soddenness of the life around them, the power of their gospel of simplicity, humility, and love to cross the barriers of race and class, and their firm assurance of immortality—there must now be added all the evidence laid bare by historians like Cumont of the unsatisfactory rival religions in the early empire, by anthropologists like Frazer of pagan preparation for Christianity in such dogmas as those of the dying god and the virgin goddess, by psychologists like Freud of the overmastering tendency of desire to generate congenial beliefs. The cogency of such an account would depend on its power to cover the complex details of a long historical development, and we cannot undertake it. Happily that is not necessary for our present purpose. The immediate point is whether the Roman bishops could have made their rapid ascent from impotence to dominion unless the succession had been launched and guided by supernatural power.

There is one fact that by itself goes far toward explaining this ascent on a natural basis. It is simply that Rome was in those years the capital of the civilised world. ‘Rome was the centre of the world's movements. Everybody came thither. She was the world's “microcosm”. It followed necessarily that she stood, as regards her Church, in a unique freedom of communication with the Churches of the rest of the world. Christians from all parts necessarily gravitated thither.’54 This concentration of influence is surely not without parallel. The lawyers, actors, and doctors of England look to those who lead the profession in London as leaders of the profession generally; the artists, professors, and clerics of France look to those at the top in Paris as outstanding among Frenchmen; the seat of commercial and political power tends to become the centre also of science, scholarship, and religion. Rome was to the civilised world in the first centuries what London is to England and Paris to France. Its emperor, its courts, its wealth and trade, its military dominance, its liberal policy of citizenship and its physical splendour made it easily first among the cities of the world. It was therefore merely natural that its bishop should gravitate toward the primacy among his colleagues from the provinces; indeed the Council of Chalcedon explicitly gave this as the reason for his primacy; it was ‘on account of the predominant position of that city’. One may even be surprised that the ascendancy was not achieved and recognised earlier than it was. The first bishop of Rome to assert the later prerogatives with popular acceptance was Leo the Great, who rose to the throne in the year 440, and whose power was accentuated by his success in persuading Attila the Hun to turn back from his march on Rome. Here the Rome of the popes was visibly accepting the leadership that was being lost by the Rome of the Caesars.


23 We have been considering the apostolicity of the church in its first meaning. According to that meaning, the church can trace its present authority backward along a power-line of transmission beginning with the investiture of Peter, a supernatural line without whose potent current the rise and maintenance of the church would be inexplicable. We have seen that there is room for question about this line, most notably perhaps as to the firmness of its first attachment. But apostolicity has a second meaning. It implies that the church of today is linked with its original founder not only by continuity in its headship but also by its reproduction of the structure and spirit of the primitive Christian community, that in the faith, worship, and organisation of the present-day church we find a true reflection across the centuries of the church apostolic. Is the church of Rome apostolic in this second sense?

24 Unfortunately there is no one of the ‘notes’ that breaks down quite so tragically. Modern Catholicism a replica of primitive Christianity, a reproduction of the mind and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth! Certainly the claim does not wear on its face any high plausibility. It recalls the question of Sully Prudhomme when he looked over the row of volumes of the Summa Theologica, ‘How is it that this which is so complicated has proceeded from what was so simple?’ In no one of the three respects—organisation, worship, faith—in which the church is supposed to offer a faithful portrait is there any satisfactory likeness. The early churches were simple democratic communities, to whom Jesus had ‘proclaimed a kingdom which was shortly to come down from heaven. Nothing was more contrary to his conception of the Kingdom of God than the idea of a monarchical Church modelled upon the laws of the empire of the Caesars, with a similar hierarchy and the same capital.’55

Nor does the likeness seem to be greater in ritual and worship.

‘He did not love tradition, did not believe in the sanctity of formularies, in the holiness of fasts, the sin and apostasy of all who refused to conform to the priestly law or order.… His ideal of worship was filial love expressed in filial speech and conduct; and this love made all places sacred, all times holy, all service religious, all actions duties done to the Father in heaven.’56

The question has often been asked, and with point, whether the prophet of Nazareth, if he were conducted into a modern cathedral, would have any conception of what was going on. He would be met with an elaborate ministry to the senses. He would see priests in vestments moving about in candlelight before a richly covered altar; would hear the singing of robed choirs and the chanting of a mass in a strange language; and he would smell the heavy odour of incense. Would he know, one wonders, where to come in with a response, when to kneel, and when to stand?

If he inquired what the figure at the altar was doing, he would receive an extraordinary answer. He would be told that, by reason of supernatural aid, invoked by a potent formula, the priest was converting bread and wine into flesh and blood, which would forthwith be eaten. Why this rite? Because, in the remote past an angry Deity had been appeased by the bloody and excruciating but voluntary sacrifice of his only son. Since the son was sinless, this act had created a vast reservoir of grace or merit, and by partaking of this flesh and blood, worshippers not only paid honour to Father and Son, but averted some part of the Father's anger against themselves. Anger for what? Partly for their own wickedness, but partly also for the sins of their remote ancestors, for which he had determined to hold them responsible. But whose body is being thus eaten? To which there could only come the reply: ‘It is your body we are eating; it is you that have appeased your wrathful Father for us; it is by your orders that the censers are swinging, the organ pealing, the mass being celebrated in these vestments.’ Would he recognise in all this his own mind and will? We can answer only with another question: How can any student of the simple, poetic, prophetic, unworldly mind of Jesus believe for a moment that this was its natural expression? Dean Inge is probably right that the simple worship of the Society of Friends, that group which of all Christian sects stands farthest from Catholicism, is closer to the upper room than the most orthodox of masses sung under the dome of St Peter's.

The same conclusion seems inevitable about the creed of Catholicism in relation to the faith of Jesus. What the faith of Jesus really was no one knows with certainty; it must be divined between lines of uncertain authorship, uncertain date, and at times contradictory import. But his origin and education were humble, and though he probably knew some Greek, he seems to have been quite untouched by Greek science and philosophy. There is surely something grotesque in the thought of the Galilean prophet's being confronted by the twenty-two portentous volumes in which, armed with all the sharp cutlery of the Aristotelian logic, Aquinas dissected, expounded, and systematised the Christian creed. What would Jesus have made of the metaphysics of the eucharist, with its play of substance and accident? Where would he have stood on the filioque clause? Could he, or would he, thread the mazes of Thomistic demonology and angelology? Was he clear about the length of service in purgatory required for the expiation of the various classes of sin? To the good Catholic there is nothing grotesque in these questions, nothing about which the mind of Christ, carrying, as it must have done, the whole Catholic scheme of salvation, would have hesitated for a moment. Others, including myself, can only think that such questions would have seemed to Jesus, as they do to most of ourselves, artificial and unreal.

Our survey of the four ‘notes’ has yielded little. They were supposed to provide firm foundations for belief in a supernaturally ordered church. But they seem to dissolve almost at a touch. Where does this leave the Catholic apologist?


25 If he means what he sometimes says, it leaves him in an unhappy place. He sometimes claims to be a thoroughgoing rationalist, ready to stake the case for the occurrence of revelation on straightforward argument. For the man of faith, this is questionable strategy. It assumes, for one thing, that the argument he has to offer will turn out to be conclusive, as the one we have just examined was supposed to be. But it may turn out to be far from conclusive, and the apologist will then be empty-handed. But secondly, to base the claim of an authority supposed to be ultimate on the validity of a supporting argument is an even more radical error, for it implies a surrender in principle of the case being argued. If one accepts the authority because of the reasons, and is ready to abandon it if these reasons prove invalid, then one is shifting one's ultimate appeal from authority to reason, which is now the power behind the throne, establishing the authority or dismissing it. The more responsible Catholic apologists have seen this, and have taken care to say that while the existence of a supernatural authority can be proved, such proof is not the ground on which faith really rests. That ground is the testimony of Deity himself, the voice of authority speaking directly and infallibly to certain chosen minds.

Now for all one can see, this direct disclosure may occur. Since it owes nothing of its authority to reason, it cannot be discredited by reason, and since it comes only from a supernatural source to a mind supernaturally prepared, no one who has received it can communicate it to anyone who has not. If a man claims to have had a disclosure, those who have not received it must accept its occurrence on the strength of his assertion, without any genuine understanding of what it is that he is asserting; and if one of them denied that such revelation occurred, he would literally not know what he was talking about. Nevertheless, outsiders can and must say this: that when the favoured person retreats in this way behind hedges impenetrable to other men's understanding or verification, he cannot complain if a doubt continues to haunt them as to the authority of the disclosure. It is extremely easy to be mistaken about such revelations, as is shown by the many persons who have been sure they have had them and come later to doubt their genuineness.

Furthermore, in consistency, a person who claims the privilege of accepting as absolute an incommunicable and unevidenced authority, must grant the same privilege to others. But the results, if he does, are disturbing. For among those who claim similar privileges are many whose private disclosures, so far as any inkling of them can be gathered, are in contradiction to his own. The mere assurance, therefore, that one has received such a disclosure is not a certification, since one or other of the contradictory parties must be mistaken, and may not he be the one? If he is a non-Catholic, he may reply, ‘I am quite ready to accept them all, and to believe that the contradictory world which they disclose is the real world’. That way madness lies. But this is not the way of the Catholic. He would not dream of abandoning the law of contradiction. Hence to him the dilemma is a serious one: if you rest your appeal to authority on reason, you are making reason, not authority, your court of last resort; if you do not, but insist on the right to accept a revelation on no rational grounds, you should grant the same right to others, and then you will find yourself faced with many contradictory ‘revelations’. One can guess the answer that will be made by the scholastic apologist. It is that he possesses the right himself because his revelation is genuine, but that others do not because theirs is illusory. Speaking strictly, there is no breach of logic in this reply. Unfortunately it will convince no one but himself.


26 Most philosophers and scientists of our day would regard the fabric of revealed doctrine in which the Catholic has traditionally lived as at once impressive and unreal. They would be indifferent whether our criticism was effective or ineffective, for they would take it in either case as a battling with shadows. Why attempt to storm a castle point by point when one can see with a little reflection that it is a castle in the clouds, its towers and turrets steadily dissolving in the breezes of modern thought? What is of interest is not the crevices of error or the loopholes of fallacy that keen eyes may discern in it, but why anyone should have taken such a fabric as truth at all.

That has not “been our own question about Catholicism. While unable to accept it, we have paid it the respect of taking its claim to truth seriously. Still the question why, if not true, it has been so widely taken as true is also of interest. The general answer is not far to seek. What sustains a system of this kind is a combination of factors, of which two are outstanding, the satisfaction of desire on the one hand and the congeniality of the intellectual climate on the other.

The importance of desire is surely obvious. Man is a waif in the universe. He is pushed into existence without his consent; he is inevitably pushed out of it before long by forces beyond his understanding. His body is a sort of candle carrying about a flickering flame of consciousness in which everything of value in his universe resides. He knows to a certainty that the candle will not long support the flame, and he does his best to keep its wavering tongue alive against the winds that threaten it from all sides. When he thinks about his prospects, as all men do occasionally, he realises that he is helpless, that the infinite universe has him in its grip, that it can crush him at any moment, and that it eventually will. There is only one hope for him. Might the universe itself be controlled by a power that could be enlisted on his side? Catholicism assures him that this last hope is an actual, joyful fact. Behind the vast indifferent machine is a person more or less like himself, just, solicitous, even loving, who cares enough for his creatures to have paid the mysterious sacrifice of his very self to give them a chance of escape. And this escape is more than a release from extinction; it is the promise of translation into a world without end of security, fulfilment, and happiness, the things men long for most. Is it a matter for surprise that when feeble and fearful persons are offered such a gift they should stretch out their hands for it? Is it likely that before accepting it they should examine meticulously the credentials of the donation? It is true that when first offered it was a strange alloy of fact and myth, but then the means of smelting fact loose from the encasement of myth hardly existed. Enough that their religion answered a tremendous need, and that the intellectual climate of the time lent that answer credibility.


27 Indeed the intellectual climate has supported the church during most of Christian history, if only because through long stretches of time the church has supplied that climate itself. For more than a thousand years there was little to be found of scholarship, science, or philosophy outside the cloister; and within the cloister a rigorous control was imposed on untoward doubts and inquiries. The Catholic view of the world was the only one available; it was accepted by the body of learned men, most of whom were themselves within the church; and the general opinion was that the church had received it directly from Deity. This view of the world seemed so firm of outline, so persuasive, so harmonious, that disbelief in it was branded as not only stupidity but sin, justly punishable by excommunication if not by thumbscrew, rack, and stake. Since the production of contrary evidence was impermissible, all the evidence at hand pointed in one direction. For those in the Catholic world, Catholicism was the world.

To men of today, the mind of mediaeval man seems remote and strangely naive. How gullible can one be? To believe in witches riding broomsticks against the moon, a devil who, even in Luther's time, could be heard of nights in the courtyard, the magically efficacious knucklebones of saints, the continuing interposition of the Virgin to heal disease and temper the weather—all this seems childish to the man brought up in a world of science. If he rejects such claims, it is not because he could disprove any of them, but because in a world of scientific daylight the monsters and demons that once flourished in shady places find the light too much for them and gradually fade away.

But it must be remembered that for mediaeval man and for some of his modern successors there was no larger world of law by whose light his structure of dogma could be examined and judged; his religion with its foundation in Scripture and its pillars of dogma was the house he lived in; it supplied the solid reality against which other claims were measured. Within it, all the parts seemed coherent and necessary to each other, and in their union they gave the whole an overwhelming credibility. Science could find no means of entrance, for the approach from the side of nature was specially guarded by church teaching. This teaching was that the cardinal points of revealed truth were firmer certainties than anything science could supply, and therefore that in any conflict with natural knowledge revelation must take precedence.

If a devotee takes up his residence in this roomy house of faith, allows no light to enter except through windows stained with the colours and figures of that faith, and stays there resolutely, his eyes become so accustomed after a time to the light of tapers and rose windows that it becomes for him the daylight. Doctrines that to the secular mind seem too bizarre for consideration begin to appear first natural and then necessary. If one has accepted the greatest of all miracles, the incarnation, why quibble about minor ones like the walking on the water or the feeding of the five thousand? If the second member of the Paraclete was born of woman, was she not in fact the mother of God? And if she was thus honoured by Deity, why not pray to her for intercession with Deity? Why not admit that she was free from original sin, as Pius IX asked (and answered) in 1854? Why not take the short further step of accepting her bodily assumption into heaven, as Pius XII asked (and answered) in 1950? Indeed why should one not applaud the Primate of Poland as he begged the assembled bishops at Vatican II ‘not to disband before solemnly consecrating the world to Mary’? Each dogma in the system leads to others, and as each is seen to have its place in the elaborately reticulated webwork of doctrine, its plausibility rises. Beliefs like that in the real presence, the sin in the garden, the flood, the stone rolled away, paradise with its flights of angels, hell and purgatory with their flights of devils—beliefs that standing alone would seem incredible—come to seem natural enough to a mind that lives within the system. Start with a body of revelation beyond the criticism of one's natural faculties; develop it, if this should be possible, with the thoroughness of an Aquinas, the logic of a Pascal, and the subtlety of a Newman; scorn as they did to measure its fixities by the changing fashions of science; live as they did in the haunting fear that their inquiring minds might carry them over the brink into heresy and hell; and you have a way of life that virtually guarantees loyalty to the faith.

28 The guarantee will hold, however, on one condition only: intellectual intercourse between the tenants of the house of faith and the world outside must be jealously controlled. For the records disclose that once they have wandered afield and exposed themselves to secular science and philosophy, they have a way of not coming back and, worse, of complaining that the structure in which they had lived, imposing as it was in its interior, seems as they look back at it strangely rickety and insecure. This has always been a problem for the church, and it has become more acute with the rise of science. Vatican II faced it in the form of a dilemma, neither horn of which seemed acceptable, the dilemma between the way of thinking of Cardinal Ottaviani and that of Cardinal Suenens. The redoubtable old head of the Holy Office hewed to the line of traditional dogma; the church had never pretended to be of this world; it had scored its successes by setting itself against that world in belief, in spirit, and in practice; why should it compromise now? To the majority of bishops, however, that seemed like the sort of rigidity from which the good Pope John was seeking to deliver the church. The liberal Archbishop of Brussels took another line. The church should try to understand the modern age, and so far as it consistently could, accommodate itself to the world of science, not fight a losing battle against it; ‘I beg of you, Fathers, not to repeat the trial of Galileo. One is enough in the Church.’

That was sage counsel from a brave man, but it was more dangerous, perhaps, than Cardinal Suenens realised. For Catholicism is especially vulnerable to science by reason of the very integration of its theory. If its body of dogma were merely a litter of unrelated theses, each of which could stand or fall alone, the church could lose an occasional dogma to the attrition of science without alarm for the whole. But its body of belief is not such a litter. It has its contradictions, as we have seen, but in the main it is an organism whose parts are so interdependent that the amputation of a dogma is a shock felt at all its extremities. The Virgin birth is an example. Suppose that the youth who accepts it without question becomes a student of biology. In any case but this, he would scout the suggestion of human parthenogenesis. Biological doubts arising, he begins to have textual doubts. He looks more critically at the record, and finds the evidence more tenuous than he would have believed possible; two of the gospels, for example, make no mention of such a birth, and the other two give human genealogies either of which, though inconsistent with each other, would, if true, preclude it. Does he find the evidence such as to demonstrate that the Virgin birth was not a fact? No, not that either. Like most others in the theological system, this dogma is incapable of conclusive disproof. It has such credibility as is lent to it by its coherence with the theological system. But how is that system itself to be appraised?


29 To that question there is only one tenable answer. The truth of the system must be judged by its coherence with human experience as a whole. It may be said that this is to appeal arbitrarily from one authority to another, that if two coherent systems of thought collide, neither should be preferred to the other. But this is untrue. For the truth of a system must be judged, not by internal consistency alone, but also by its breadth of inclusiveness; and the most inclusive available system is that which includes human experience as extended and interpreted by the sciences. The world of the Forsyte Saga may be extraordinarily consistent internally, but that is no guarantee that Soames and Jolyon Forsyte lived and moved on earth; we cannot fit their world, however consistent in itself, into the world we actually live in, for that would conflict at innumerable points with our knowledge of Victorian England and the facts of Galsworthy's biography. The Greek mythology may make an astonishingly consistent whole of story, but no one doubts that it is only story, for that hypothesis fits far more consistently into the body of historic fact and anthropological law than any account of an actual Zeus meeting with an actual council on the summit of Olympus.

There is nothing arbitrary in taking reflectively interpreted experience as the court of last appeal. In the end, it is this or nothing. The sensations with which experience starts are compulsory; our interpretation of them in perception is compulsory; the laws of inference by which we develop and relate our perceptions are compulsory; and once we are launched on the enterprise of science, we find that the order of our experience is inexplicable except through a nature governed by law. The system of thought thus developed is a natural one, and the ideal of explanation through a system whose parts are intelligibly related is immanent at every stage of the development. It is idle for any authority, religious or secular, to take its stand against this natural order of thought. Religious systems and scientific theories without number have set their lances in rest against it only to break themselves on it and disappear. Nor can there be pluralism where truth is concerned; to say that the bodily assumption is true for the Catholic, though untrue for Buddhist or Protestant, is only to say that one party thinks it true and the other not; it could hardly mean that the dogma itself is both true and false. One or the other party must be mistaken.

In the appraisal of Catholicism as of any other system of beliefs, we come then in the end to the question whether it can maintain itself in the light of human experience when this is itself systematised by the logical ideals implicit in it. The unavoidable answer seems to be No.

30 The world of modern science is one of law. If a new and strange event occurs and the scientist is asked what were the chances of its having a natural cause, as against its having no such cause and being an intrusion of the supernatural into nature, he would probably not rate them as infinity to zero; the profession of absolute certainties does not come easily to him. Instead he would probably rate them as millions or billions to one, which is a fairly close approximation to certainty after all. Now the Catholic system of dogma does not fit into this modern intellectual world. It holds not only that suspensions of law have occurred, and occurred more than once, but that there have been untold thousands of them, from the delivery to Moses of the tablets of stone through the walking on the water and the raising of Lazarus to the myriad interpositions of saints, the miracles connected with relics, the supernatural cures of Lourdes and Fatima, and the continuing transubstantiations of the mass. One cannot hold at once that the world is governed by natural law and also that its laws are continually and massively set aside by powers of which no natural account can be given. The major assumption of science, the law of causality, is thus in conflict with a major Catholic assumption, namely that suspensions of causal law are of daily and hourly occurrence. It may be replied that the law of causality—the law that all events are governed by causal laws—is itself as truly empirical as any particular law; there is hence no necessity about it, and exceptions to it may be admitted without contradiction. Most philosophers of science would so far agree with this as to hold the law of causality to be neither self-evident nor an inductive conclusion (which would inevitably be circular), but rather a postulate progressively verified as science advances. And this means that the Catholic assumption does remain a theoretic possibility in the sense that it is not demonstrably false. Nevertheless, in view of the support that has been given to the postulate in an immense variety of fields by the advance of science, this possibility provides somewhat cold comfort. While it vetoes the verdict of demonstrable falsity, it leaves standing so overwhelming an improbability as to give no plausible ground for positive belief.

31 It is not merely over the continuing suspension of law, however, that Catholic dogma conflicts with modern thought. Its two-world theory implies that there are two orders of truth, reaching us from different sources, verifiable by different standards, and carrying different degrees of assurance. Truths of the first order come to us, not through our natural faculties, but from an absolute authority; truths of the second order come to us from human experience, which is finite and fallible; and if truths of the two orders conflict, the first has the right of way. Modern thought finds it increasingly difficult to accept these two orders. If, whenever authority has taken sides against science, it has had to trim and retreat, the claim to a separate and superior order of knowledge becomes steadily less credible, and the conviction that truth is to be achieved only through the exercise of our natural faculties becomes more assured.

Indeed the notion of a double standard seems bound to end in incoherence. Sooner or later a case will arise in which a belief warranted by one standard will be disallowed by the other; what then? The consequences will be far-reaching. If we are told by an authority that something is true which our natural insight tells us is untrue, it is not only this particular belief that is at issue, but the standards of our ordinary thought; these are being set aside as unreliable; and if they are really thus unreliable, the infection spreads through the whole natural field. Furthermore, our insights in ethics are placed in jeopardy as well as those in the natural sciences. If we are instructed, for example, that the delivery of the gospel to one people and one time, to the exclusion of all others, is perfectly just, then our own conception of justice must be distorted. If we are told that perfect goodness presides over nature and history, then the influenza epidemic of 1918 must be a manifestation of it. And if that is really goodness, then our own ethics can no longer stand. It is conceivable, to be sure, that there should be a continuing revelation which at each step was in advance of our own thought, but never so far that we could not on reflection assimilate and grow up to it. But that is not the case or the claim of the revelation here dealt with. That revelation has been given once for all, and between its content, both factual and ethical, and our own standards, there are gaps that seem unbridgeable.

32 If what we have said is true, the ultimate verdict on Catholic dogma is a verdict on a contracted system of thought passed by a more inclusive one. To the mind that lives in the Catholic world, each dogma seems reasonable enough; it has its appointed place in the traditional system and takes its credibility from the mutual sustenance that the members of the system give to each other. But the system is itself a limited one. The block of doctrine of which it is composed was, in the main, hewn out before modern logic, science, or history had been born, and for much of its existence there was no more inclusive system by which it could be judged; it supplied the horizons of the world. But the growth of science has flung back those horizons to an unimaginable distance—in space, in time, and in the complexity and wealth of human knowledge. And wherever that knowledge has penetrated, it has found law. Even in the realm of the submicroscopic it has found at least statistical law. Is it likely that a tiny enclave consisting of one religious community on one minute planet in a universe apparently governed throughout by natural law should be the scene of continual suspensions of that law, made on no discernible plan? No one can be surprised if this claim is greeted with a steadily mounting scepticism.

Science has not proved its major assumption; granted. In the fields of psychical research and mental healing there are occurrences which have baffled every attempt to bring them under known law and which suggest that some widely accepted postulates of science may have to be revised. But three points are to be remarked about such cases. First, the most competent researchers regard them as attestations, not of a supernatural order, but at most of a nature richer in content than the traditional one, perhaps requiring ‘extrasensory perception’ for contact with it. Secondly, the relations of these unexplored regions to the familiar world are still regarded as governed by law, even where the law remains to be discovered. Thirdly, the burden of proof must always be assumed by the claim to a suspension of law, from whatever region that suspension is alleged to come. Explanation normally means bringing an instance under a natural law, and to hold that there is no law governing the case is considered acceptable only as a last and desperate resort.

Upon such convictions as these the modern scientific mind has been formed. When presented with a system of dogma alleged to be revealed from outside nature and above it, and claiming that interpositions continually occur, contemporary man is sceptical. His scepticism is not primarily of this or that dogma, and if he tried to argue transubstantition or the bodily assumption with a practised Jesuit apologist, he would probably not cut a distinguished figure. Out of his element in scholastic dialectic and confused by the citation of imposing authorities, he would still protest that the over-world of heaven and hell, angels and demons, transcendental cures and ecclesiastically induced changes in the weather seemed to him unreal. Why? He might shrug his shoulders and say he felt in his bones that they were. Inarticulate as his ‘intuition’ may be, it is not simply to be brushed aside. It may be the voice of a much larger volume of thought and experience than his own; indeed it may sum up the attitude of the ‘modern mind’, formed and penetrated as this is by the spirit of science. There are those who would find in it the verdict of an older, more experienced, more sceptical world (‘we are the true ancients,’ said Bacon) on a younger and more imaginative but far less critical one.

33 Such a judgement, when made reflectively, would not of course dismiss unheard the claim that there are two world orders. We have tried ourselves to listen to what is said, and to discover whether these two orders can be put together into a coherent whole. The assumption that the world is such a whole, that the two sides of an inconsistency cannot both be true or real, is the basis on which we build. When we have found the two orders in conflict, we have tried to explain as groping hypothesis, imagination, or myth the side that most resisted assimilation into a coherent system. What other road can a responsible thinker take? This attempt to avoid compartmentalisation, to see particular claims in the light of the whole, and to order one's beliefs into consistency and interconnection is for us what philosophy means. If we should need a plea for this reflective ideal, finely and temperately stated, we should turn to no other than Cardinal Newman.

‘That only is true enlargement of mind which is the power of viewing many things at once as one whole, of referring them severally to their true place in the universal system, of understanding their respective values, and determining their mutual dependence.… Possessed of this real illumination, the mind never views any part of the extended subject-matter of Knowledge without recollecting that it is but a part.… It makes every thing in some sort lead to every thing else.… To have even a portion of this illuminative reason and true philosophy is the highest state to which nature can aspire, in the way of intellect.…’57

  • 1.

    See the concluding paragraph of chap. 1.

  • 2.

    ‘Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.’

  • 3.

    Essay on von Ranke's History of the Popes.

  • 4.

    Moorfields Lectures (3rd Am. edn), I, 63.

  • 5.

    I, 28. Cf. Vatican Council I, session IV, chap. 3: ‘Neque enim Petri successoribus spiritus sanctus promissus est, ut eo revelante novam doctrinam patefacerent, sed ut, eo assistente, traditam per apostolos revelationem seu fidei depositum sancte custodirent et fideliter exponerent.’

  • 6.

    Pius IX in Qui Pluribus, 1846, repeated by Pius X in Pascendi Gregis, 1907.

  • 7.

    Martineau, Seat of Authority, 143–4. Zosimus reversed his own reversal a year or two later.

  • 8.

    G. G. Coulton, Papal Infallibility (London, Faith Press; Milwaukee, Morehouse, 1932), 62–3.

  • 9.

    The Infallibility of the Church, 213.

  • 10.

    Matt. 25:41.

  • 11.

    Eternal Hope (N.Y., Dutton, 1878), 201–2.

  • 12.

    What Is of Faith as to Everlasting Punishment? (Oxford, Parker, 1880), 38. Pusey himself never joined the Roman Church.

  • 13.

    ‘Sequitur deinde: in ignem aeternum, quod quidem alterum poenarum genus, poenam sensus Theologi vocarunt: propterea quod sensu corporis percipiatur, ut in verberibus et flagellis, aliove graviore suppliciorum genere: inter quae dubitari non potest, tormenta ignis summum doloris sensum efficere; cui malo cum accedat ut perpetuum tempus duraturum sit, ex eo ostenditur damnatorum poenam omnibus suppliciis cumulandam esse.…’

  • 14.

    ‘(Sacrosancta Romana ecclesia) firmiter credit, profitetur et praedicat, nullos intra catholicam ecclesiam non existentes, non solum paganos, sed nec Iudaeos aut haereticos atque schismaticos aeternae vitae fieri posse participes, sed in ignem aeternum ituros, qui paratus est diabolo et angelis eius, nisi ante finem vitae eidem fuerint aggregati.’ Mirbt, Quellen, sec. 326.

  • 15.

    Gibbon, Decline and Fall, Milman's edn (Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1867), III, 343.

  • 16.

    The attitude of thoughtful men toward this doctrine of hell varies strangely. John Stuart Mill said that ‘compared with the doctrine of endless torment, every objection to Christianity sinks into insignificance.’ Nicolas Berdyaev says similarly: ‘I can conceive of no more powerful and irrefutable argument in favour of atheism than the eternal torments of hell. If hell is eternal, then I am an atheist.’ London, Times Lit. Sup., Nov. 24, 1950. Again, George Sand wrote: ‘L'Église Romaine s'est porté le dernier coup: elle a consomme son suicide le jour ou elle a fait Dieu implacable et la damnation éternelle.’ Spiridion, 302 (quoted by Cadoux, op. cit., 547). On the other hand, the kindly Martin D'Arcy, admitting that theologians talk about the fire of hell, writes: ‘The first and main reason is that Christ so frequently chooses the word “fire”. The Church rightly keeps to the language and thought of Revelation, and finds that both in terms of love and philosophy the language is well-suited.’ Belief and Reason, 74 fn. The more sceptical minds here show the greater imagination and moral seriousness.

  • 17.

    Salmon, op. cit., 206.

  • 18.

    An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (11th ptg, Longmans, Green, 1900), 389.

  • 19.

    The Teaching of the Catholic Church, II, 1146.

  • 20.


  • 21.

    ‘When Herman Schell (in 1893) argued that such children might enter heaven, his statements called forth a storm of protest, and his book was placed on the Index.’ Cadoux, op. cit., 541.

  • 22.

    The Teaching of the Catholic Church, II, 1169–70.

  • 23.

    Ibid., 1158–9.

  • 24.

    Ibid., 977.

  • 25.

    Cadoux, op. cit., 488–9.

  • 26.

    The Infallibility of the Church, 209.

  • 27.

    From an encyclical of 27 October 1904, quoted by Dean Inge, Outspoken Essays, 143.

  • 28.

    The Infallibility of the Church, 21.

  • 29.

    Rt Rev. William Shaw Kerr in The Churchman (London) vol. 65 (1951), 8. Charles Davis, the British Catholic theologian, cited the impossibility of believing these dogmas to be revealed truth as among the reasons for his leaving the church in 1966.

  • 30.

    Article ‘Tradition’ by George M. Sauvage, Catholic Encyclopedia.

  • 31.

    Essay on Development, 17.

  • 32.

    ‘Newman began his Lives of the Saints with such a bias in favour of the miraculous that even Roman Catholics with a healthy stomach for such fare could not digest the feast of legend which he prepared with such gusto. “They scrupled,” so Newman told a friend, “to receive the account of St Winifred carrying her head”.’ Arnold Lunn, Roman Converts (London, Chapman & Hall, 1924), 86.

  • 33.

    New York Times, March 7, 1967.

  • 34.

    Ibid., 13 Feb., 1967.

  • 35.

    Human Society in Ethics and Politics (London, Allen & Unwin, 1954), 67.

  • 36.

    Quoted from a letter of Acton's by Arnold Lunn, Roman Converts, 116.

  • 37.

    Cadoux, op. cit., 176.

  • 38.

    Martineau, Seat of Authority, 163; italics his.

  • 39.

    The question might be asked, further, whether unity in a field where desires are strongly engaged offers as effective a witness as in science, where normally they are not. Newman has left it on record that an important factor in determining his own religious opinion was the thought, securus judical orbis terrarum. Sidgwick commented on this maxim: ‘Instead of securus judical orbis terrarum must we not say orbis terrarum vult decipi et decipielur?’ A. and E. M. Sidgwick, Henry Sidgwick: a Memoir (London, Macmillan, 1906), 407.

  • 40.

    W. R. Inge, Protestantism (Garden City, Doubleday, Doran, 1928), 12.

  • 41.

    In the pages that immediately follow, I owe a special debt to Bishop Charles Gore's Roman Catholic Claims (11th edn, London, Longmans, Green, 1920) and Dr Cadoux's Catholicism and Christianity (London, Allen & Unwin, 1928). The latter book is, I suppose, the most comprehensive criticism in English of the Catholic position.

  • 42.

    Sabatier, Religions of Authority and the Religion of the Spirit (1904), 120.

  • 43.

    Alfred Fawkes, article ‘Papacy’ in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics.

  • 44.

    Gore, op. cit., 91–92.

  • 45.

    Irenaeus, Contra Haereses, III, 3 (Migne).

  • 46.

    See Tertullian's De Pudicitia, chap. 21.

  • 47.

    Religions of Authority, 118.

  • 48.

    Coulton, Papal Infallibility, 10.

  • 49.

    Cf. W. J. Sparrow Simpson, Roman Catholic Opposition to Papal Infallibility (London, J. Murray, 1909), 271. Newman's attitude is worth recording by reason of his careful study of the fathers. In a letter to Bishop Ullathorne printed 7 April 1870, he wrote: ‘I… pray those early doctors of the Church, whose intercession would decide the matter (Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, Athanasius, Chrysostom, and Basil), to avert this great calamity. If it is God's will that the Pope's infallibility be defined, then it is God's will to throw back the “times and moments” of the triumph which He has destined for His kingdom; and I shall feel that I have but to bow my head to His adorable inscrutable Providence.’ (Quoted by Salmon, op. cit., 21–2.) In the end Manning seems to have prevailed over the saints.

  • 50.

    Decrees of Council of Chalcedon, chap. 28. Mirbt, sec. 161.

  • 51.

    Decrees of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod, Actio XIII. Mirbt, sec. 188.

  • 52.

    Matt. 16:28; 24:42 ff; Mark 9:1; 13:30; 14:62.

  • 53.

    Proposition 52 in the Syllabus of Errors; for the text see Mirbt, sec. 558.

  • 54.

    Gore, op. cit., 96–7.

  • 55.

    Sabatier, op. cit., 119.

  • 56.

    A. M. Fairbairn, Catholicism, Roman and Anglican (N.Y., Scribner's, 1899), 38.

  • 57.

    Newman, The Idea of a University (London, Longmans, Green, 1912), 136–7.

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