This continues our reprint of the article, "Reunion or Submission" penned by Arthur Featherstone Marshall in The American Catholic Quarterly Review of 1893.
(Click Here for Part I
and here for Part II
)Is the Catholic Church Divinely Authoritative? If non-Catholics have accepted the estimate just now hazarded, that "the claim to possess the divine authority to teach truth" is in itself a strong presumption of that possession; they will have easily passed to the corollary, that “ the disclaimer of divine authority is in itself a strong presumption of not possessing it"; and they will therefore naturally turn to the authority which says, "I can teach,” and will ask, “Prove to me that you are from, heaven and I will obey you." Well might the Catholic Church reply with her Divine Master, "Have I been so long time with, you, and yet hast thou not known me?" But in truth all non-Catholics recognize the truism, that the Catholic Church alone is authoritative. It is because she is authoritative that they quarrel with her, alleging that they prefer their private judgment. The question with any Protestant is not, "Is the Catholic Church authoritative?” but, "Is the Catholic Church divinely authoritative?" This question we should like to try to answer.
If the Catholic Church be not divinely authoritative, then in what sense can it be said to be authoritative? Remember what it has done. It has through nineteen centuries deﬁned Christian dogma, anathematizing all who disobeyed. Who was it who condemned the Arians, and decreed that the Blessed Virgin was “Mother of God?" Who was it that, instinctively detecting the subtle heresies of such men as Nestorius or Eutyches, defended the true doctrine of the Incarnation, and anathematized all who attacked it? Who was it who replied to Martin Luther's wild heresies by affirming the dogma of transubstantiation; and who was it, in the present century, who replied to the humanness of Protestantism by proclaiming the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, and subsequently replied to the mockers of supreme authority by affirming the dogma of infallibility? From the ﬁrst Council of Jerusalem to the last Council of the Vatican, the Catholic Roman Church has alone claimed divine authority, has alone exercised the rights of that authority. If then this authority be not divine, what is it? Most certainly it cannot be human. No Christian could believe that a purely human authority had taught nineteen centuries of Christians to adore the Sacramental Presence on the Altar; to submit to the humiliation of confessing their sins before they were permitted to communicate; or to accept a rule of faith, from its very beginning to its very end, under penalty of excommunication.
If all this exercise of divine authority were purely human (to use a paradox which Protestantism has invented) then must the human and the divine be the same thing; for it would follow that the Son of God had given to a human institution the divine power of penetrating divine mysteries, of teaching His whole Church the exact truth upon every doctrine; and of enforcing obedience, under penalty of damnation, to the whole discipline of the whole Catholic life. There is only one escape from this obviously absurd dilemma, and the escape is more disastrous than the dilemma; it is that the Son of God has permitted all Christians to be taught lies (and this too for nearly nineteen centuries) by that very authority which He ordained to teach them truths. In this case the promises of the Son of God to be with His Teaching Church to the end of the world - to guide her into all truth so that the gates of hell should never conquer her - have been broken from the very beginning to the present time, and apparently will be always broken to the Day of judgment; an “escape" from the dilemma which we prefer to leave to such intelligences as must take as low a view of the Son of God as of His Church. Indeed it were difficult to say whether the impiety or the absurdity of both the dilemma and the escape from the dilemma is more outrageous, more revolting to a Christian mind. If you accept the authority of the Teaching Church as being divine, her whole lifetime, her whole dogmatizing, have been consistent; but if you say that that teaching authority is not divine, you have to admit that a purely human institution has usurped the place of the Holy Spirit of God; has taught with most exquisite accuracy the mysteries of the divine mind; binding all men to obey her or to be lost. But is such an hypothesis so much as conceivable; we need not ask, is it reasonable, is it Christian? What! the only Teaching Church that ever existed is also the only supreme impiety, supreme blasphemy! The only Church which for nineteen centuries has said "You must obey"— and which has been obeyed by the enormous majority of all Christians—is also the only gigantic fraud for men's perdition! The only Church from which all schismatics and heretics have learned all that they ever knew about Christian Truth is also the only Church which has so incarnated apostasy as to teach lies from the year I to 1893! Then away with Christianity from off the earth. So colossal a mistake, so inconceivable a failure, has never been matched in the world's history as the Protestant ideal of the Catholic Church.
But to return to common sense, and to talk as reasonable beings who believe in God and in the Divinity of Jesus Christ; we all know that the Catholic Church has authority, and that that authority must, of necessity, be divine. Knowing this, we also know that the Church must be infallible—that is, cannot be deceived by the Holy Spirit. Infallibility (in regard only to faith and morals) necessarily follows upon the divine commission to teach; for, that God should give a commission to teach, and should make it the Christian's duty to obey, while not giving the divine assistance to teach truly, is, in the rational order, an absurdity which is monstrous, and in the supernatural order inconceivable. A divine authority must teach divinely, because it is not a man or men who deﬁne truth, but the Holy Spirit, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
[Comment Guidelines - Click to view]