Chapter III : The Alleged Argument in a Circle


In the second chapter of the Abridgement Salmon sets out to show that "when men profess faith in the Church's infallibility, they are, in real truth, professing faith in their own," [58] although, in his opinion, the very reason why people submit to the Church's infallible claim is that they are afraid of their own fallibility:

"The craving for an infallible guide arises from men's consciousness of the weakness of their understanding....It seems intolerable to men that, when their eternal interests are at stake, any doubt or uncertainty should attend their decisions and they look for some guide who may be able to tell them, with infallible certainty, which is the right way." [59]

Before examining Salmon's argument in this chapter, it may be as well to remind ourselves that the Church's claim to infallibility is not a modern invention but something that has its roots in Christian antiquity and the New Testament. I know indeed, of no definition of faith in which the word "infallible" occurs earlier than that of the [First] Vatican Council:

"We define that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra....is endowed with that infallibility wherewith the divine Redeemer willed his Church to be armed in defining [her] teaching on faith or morals." [60]

The word means, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, "incapable of erring."

Infallibility an Ancient Belief

But despite the late arrival of the word in the language of the articles of faith, the claim that it involves is ancient. It is implicit in many statements, indeed in the whole theological standpoint, of Origen of Alexandria and Palestinian Caesarea (c. AD 220-250) :

"Whereas there are many who think that they have the mind of Christ, and some of them hold views diverse from those of former times, let the Church's teaching [ecclesiastica praedicatio] be maintained, which has been handed down in one succession from the Apostles and abides till the present day in the Churches. That alone is to be believed truth which in no respect disagrees with the ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition." [61]

"Who would not be eager to fight for the Church and to stand up against the foes of truth, those that is who teach men to oppose the dogmas of the Church?" [62]

The same implication pervades the writings of Cyprian of Carthage. In common with the whole of Catholic antiquity, St. Cyprian taught that salvation was to be sought only within the visible unity of the Catholic Church. But the Catholic Church then, as now, refused its communion to those who, in its judgment, "disagreed with the ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition" (Origen, quoted above). It follows that salvation was to be sought only by accepting the dogmatic decisions of the Church, and since, in the objective order of things, it cannot be God's will that we should attain salvation by accepting error, it follows further that the Church's dogmatic decisions are not liable to error.

I have singled out, in Origen and Cyprian, two early Catholic teachers. But it is to be observed that the principle extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church, no salvation) was, as I have said, common to the whole ancient Church. That Church therefore was making an implicit claim to infallibility when, as in the Ecumenical Councils, it put its ban (anathema) on those who rejected its teaching. It was conscious, in the words of the New Testament, of being the "ground and pillar of truth" (1 Tim 3:15) and it claimed to define this truth and so to exclude errors. A heretic, in the ancient and modern meaning of the word, is one who contradicts this truth or these definitions [63], and Catholic antiquity was unanimous in holding that heretics were in error. The word "infallible" is a sort of witch-word, arousing non-rational emotional antipathies in modern men. It may therefore be useful to point out that when the modern Chuch claims to be "infallible" she is only making the claim which the Church has always made -- that her teaching is true and that "heretical" teaching is, as such, erroneous.

Infallibility in the New Testament

So much for antiquity. For New Testament times it may be of interest to quote some words of Harnack with reference to the primitive Christian community, in which, despite an element of "spiritual anarchy," he notes "the prerogative of the Twelve and the authority of the Spirit-guided infallible community." [64] It is in fact clear that the Church in New Testament times was a teaching, as well as a taught body, and that active membership required acceptance of the common doctrine.

What was the origin of this claim, on the part of the Church, that her teaching is to be accepted as true? If we turn once more to the New Testament, the answer is not far to seek. Jesus himself claimed to be a Teacher sent from God, and indeed the supreme Revealer of God to man: "No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him"; "All authority in heaven and on earth has been bestowed upon me" (Matt 11:27; 28:18). This authority he conveyed to his Apostles: "Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations....teaching them to observe all things that I have enjoined upon you; and lo, I am with you all the days till the consummation of the age" (Matt 28:19-20). Hence the Apostles went out into the world with a message ("gospel," "preaching," "word") which they presented not as conveying their own ideas but as a message through Christ from God:

"When you received the word of the message of God from us, you received it not as a human word, but (as in truth it is) as the word of God." (1 Thess 2:13)

(This is exactly the same as the claim made for its teaching by the Catholic Church). But there is no reason why Christ should have conveyed his infallible teaching authority to his Church for a generation only. If the Church was to endure till Christ's second coming, and to represent him in all subsequent ages, it will follow that her teaching will be his teaching not only till the death of the last Apostle, but so long as she herself endures. She claims no "infallibility" other than that which, through the Apostles and the primitive Christian community, she derives from him, who is the "word" of God "made flesh" (John 1:14) and who said to his first followers: "He who receives [hears] you, receives [hears] me" (Matt 10:40; Luke 10:16).

Thus the claim which Salmon seeks to undermine in this chapter is a claim that has been integral to Christianity from the beginning. And it should be observed that this argument, if valid against the Catholic Church's claim to infallibility, is valid also against any other alleged infallible authority. It is said that all Eastern Orthodox theologians today teach that the Church was endowed with the gift of infallibility by Christ. [65] There have been Anglicans who have held that the voice of the "undivided Church" as expressed in Ecumenical Councils before AD 1054 was infallible, and that this infallibility would be recovered if the Church "recovered her visible unity." Another Anglican view has been that though Ecumenical Councils are not infallible in themselves, yet infallibility belongs to the moral unanimity of believers; for example, it has been said, the definition of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) has been accepted with practical unanimity by believers ever since, and we can therefore be certain of its truth -- this is a theory of real, though dispersed, infallibility. These Eastern and Anglican views are in the same case as the Catholic claim in regard to Salmon's argument, which would also be fatal to the conservative Protestant belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.

We may go further: if "when men profess faith in the Church's infallibility, they are, in real truth, professing faith in their own," then they similarly profess faith in their own infallibility when they profess to believe in the infallibility of Christ. If we have to accept Salmon's argument as decisive, there is nothing for it but some kind of Modernism.

Confusing Infallibility with Certainty

It is however encouraging, on reading on a few lines further in the Abridgement, to discover what this argument is. It is that

"our belief must, in the end, rest on an act of our own judgment, and can never attain any higher certainty than whatever that may give us." [66] "I do not see how a Roman Catholic advocate can help yielding the point that a member of his Church does, in truth, exercise private judgment, once for all, in his decision to submit to the teaching of the Church." [67] The result is, that absolute certainty can only be had on the terms of being infallible one's self." [68]

Now no one, so far as I know, has ever maintained that an act of faith, in one who has reached the age of reason, does not involve or imply an act of personal decision, and a Roman Catholic advocate has no inclination to contest this point. The Church teaches that an act of faith is a virtuous act, and no act can be virtuous unless it comes from the intelligence and will of the agent. We do not merely concede the point, we strongly maintain it. But it does not in the least follow that when I say "I believe the Church to be infallible" I am in effect saying "I believe myself to be infallible." On the contrary, I am saying, "God, in giving the Church as a reliable teacher of his truth, has of course made her recognizable precisely by fallible people like me. She is recognizable, and I recognize her."

Salmon has confused the notion of infallibility with that of certainty, and he appears to identify the notion of belief with that of certainty, so that (on his showing) any act of belief, whatever the object of the act, is a claim to personal infallibility -- a conclusion so paradoxical that it can hardly have been intended by him. Let us try to distinguish these three notions, of belief or faith, of certainty, and of infallibility.

Faith, Certainty, and Infallibility

(1) "Belief" may mean a variety of things. A man may say "I believe that the Church is infallible" in the same sense that he may say "I believe that we are in a spell of fine weather," expressing no more than that some considerations make it seem to him not improbable that the Church is infallible. If he says "I believe in the Church's infallibility" he probably means something more than this, but he does not necessarily mean that he is certain that the Church is infallible. He may be only expressing a strong conviction, and we are strongly convinced of a good many things of which we could not rightly claim to be certain. Of course, on the other hand, "I believe in the Church's infallibility" may be an act of supernatural faith; it may imply acceptance (of the Church's infallibility) on the word of God, and the Church teaches us that such an act is an act of certainty.

(2) The notion of certainty in the sense which interests us here [69], is distinct from that of belief. Belief may be accorded to opinions that are not true. But it is impossible to hold with certainty something which in fact -- whatever the appearances may be -- is false. [70] Certainty is a quality of some of our acts of apprehension of truth. Thus I am certain of my own existence.

(3) But though I am certain of my own existence, I am not infallible. Infallibility connotes that one is not liable to error within some whole province of truth -- as the Church, according to the Vatican definition, claims infallibility in the province, not of science or politics, but of "faith and morals." But though I am certain of my own existence, I am not free from my liability to error in the province of metaphysics; I am certain of a particular proposition, I am not infallible in a given science, and many of my judgments in that science may prove to be erroneous, though not the particular judgment (of whose truth I am certain) that I exist. As usual Cardinal Newman states the distinction between certainty (or as he styles it, certitude) and infallibility with luminous clarity:

"It is very common, doubtless, especially in religious controversy, to confuse infallibility with certitude, and to argue that, since we have not the one, we have not the other, for that no one can claim to be certain on any point, who is not infallible about all; but the two words stand for things quite distinct from each other. For example, I remember for certain what I did yesterday, but still my memory is not infallible; I am quite certain that two and two make four, but I often make mistakes in long addition sums. I have no doubt whatever that John or Richard is my true friend, but I have before now trusted those who failed me, and I may do so again before I die.

"A certitude is directed to this or that particular proposition, it is not a faculty or gift, but a disposition of mind relative to the definite case which is before me. Infallibility, on the contrary, is just that which certitude is not; it is a faculty or gift, and relates, not to some one truth in particular, but to all possible propositions in a given subject-matter. We ought, in strict propriety, to speak not of infallible acts, but of acts of infallibility....I am quite certain that Victoria is our Sovereign, and not her father, the late Duke of Kent, without laying any claim to the gift of infallibility....I may be certain that the Church is infallible, while I am myself a fallible mortal; otherwise, I cannot be certain that the Supreme Being is infallible, until I am infallible myself....It is wonderful that a clearheaded man, like Chillingworth, sees this as little as the run of everyday objectors to the Catholic Religion..." [71]

The Grammar of Assent, from which the above quotations are taken, was published in 1870 and Salmon's fourth lecture "was chiefly concerned" with it (see Mr. Woodhouse's note, page 34 of the Abridgement). It can only be a matter of surprise that Salmon nevertheless chooses to follow Chillingworth and to perpetuate the misunderstanding which Newman so clearly explains.

The Church's Credentials and the Existence of Heretics

We may conclude, then, that it is quite logical to say "I am not myself infallible, but I am certain that the Church is." A far more interesting question is, whether and how such certainty can be attained. Salmon seems to argue that the infallibility of the Church does not belong to the "class" of truths about which we can have "practical certainty," namely "the things about which our own judgments agree with those of all other men." The very existence of heretics proves that the Church's credentials are not "unmistakable." Once again, however, Salmon seems unaware of the destructive range of his own weapon. If the existence of heretics shows that the Church's credentials are not unmistakable, and that therefore certainty about her claim to infallibility is impossible, must not analogous conclusions be drawn from the fact that Christ's credentials were not accepted by so many Jews in his own time? And is not the failure, up to date, of the Christian mission to mankind, a proof that Christianity is uncertain?

It is Salmon's major premise which is at fault. Certainty does not depend upon the agreement of "all other men."A mathematician, an astronomer, a historian may be certain of many things of which the non-expert is not certain. Indeed a scientist may be certain of something which his fellow-scientists loudly deny. [72] And rather similarly it was contended by Newman, especially in The Grammar of Assent, that religion appeals to men's conscience rather than to their "cold" reason. The unbelief of a man who has never wanted to believe, never felt the need of religion nor recognized it as an obligation, never "seen" the practical import of belief in God, never prepared himself by humility, penitence and prayer for the gift of faith, is not, at this level of argument, a difficulty for the believer. Many unbelievers are, in regard to religion and the Christian claim, in the attitude of mind described by "Bishop Blougram" in Browning's poem:

"You form a notion of me, we'll suppose, On hearsay; it's a favourable one.

'But still' (you add) 'there was no such good man, Because of contradiction in the facts. One proves, for instance, he was born in Rome, This Blougram; yet throughout the tales of him I see he figures as an Englishman.'

"Well, the two things are reconcilable. But would I rather you discovered that, Subjoining --

'Still, what matter though they be? Blougram concerns me nought born here or there?'"

The unbelief of those who feel "no concern" whether Christianity is true or false need not shake my own belief. And as regards Protestant unbelief in the Catholic Church, that is to say the lack of recognition of the Church's "credentials" even in Christian circles, I wish first to say, I hope not insultingly, that when I observe how "tone-deaf" Salmon is to so much that seems to me highly relevant to the Church's claims, when I notice that his prejudice against the Church is so strong that not only does he put the proposition (believed by hundreds of millions of his fellow-men) "that the Pope is Christ's vicar" on a level with the proposition "that Enceladus lies under Etna," [73] but fails to understand the case against which he is arguing and does not trouble about accuracy in his charges against an author so widely read as Newman -- when I observe all this, and when I reflect that Salmon, as an alert scholar and divine, had had unusual opportunities of studying this religion which he appears not only to reject but to despise; then I feel that the non-acceptance of the Catholic claims by non-Catholic Christians is not perhaps a very strong argument against the validity of those claims.

But I will go further. Protestant unbelief appears to me to be in a large degree explicable by considerations which in fact support the Catholic position. The Reformation in England (to take, for instance, a story comparatively well known to us) was in very large measure due to political action based on personal whims of Henry VIII and due to accident. Had Mary Tudor been a boy and had Anne Boleyn not been an attractive girl, England today might be a Catholic country like Ireland. Why are most of our fellow-countrymen, if religious at all, non-Catholic Christians? It is plainly because they have been brought up in a non-Catholic Christian environment, a non-Catholic cultural and social complex. Salmon himself might have become an "old-Catholic" schismatic, but he would hardly have been a Protestant controversialist, if he had not been bred in a Protestant environment. Could there be clearer proof that man is not, as regards his religious beliefs, the solitary individual "with no man between my soul and God" that Protestantism supposes? Religious convictions depend, for most men, not simply on themselves individually but on the social influences playing upon them from the cradle upwards. And since, on the whole, men do not escape from this dependence, it is not only better that they should admit the fact, as Catholics do, but it is reasonable to suppose that God, the Author of our nature and the Giver of grace, "allowed for" the fact by making Christianity a social affair, a corporate faith.

What the Church claims for her credentials is that they are enough, objectively considered, to satisfy the reasonable demands of an unprejudiced enquirer who is prayerfully seeking the truth with a resolution to make any sacrifices that the truth may require of him. She does not claim to be able to convince a man "against his will," and I should frankly acknowledge that many people are inculpably unaware of the strength of the Catholic claim.

How Do Catholics Arrive at Certainty?

How then does a Catholic arrive at the certainty which the Church attributes to an act of supernatural faith? Here, I am afraid, we must make another distinction which Salmon shows little awareness. Catholic thought distinguishes between the "grounds of credibility" and the "motive of faith." An unbeliever, approaching Christianity from the outside, rightly asks for the grounds on which, it is alleged by Christians, he ought to assent to the Christian claim. A variety of considerations may be offered him; and the grounds which appeal to one man may not convince another. If a number of separate individuals are to meet at Leicester, it will not necessarily meet the case to tell each of them to proceed due north. Such advice will be right for a man who finds himself due south of the rendezvous. But others may be at any other point of the compass; and to tell a man to proceed due north when he is already north of Leicester, is to invite him to proceed even further from the goal. So with unbelievers; none of them starts as a tabula rasa (or blank slate). Each has his preconceived opinions, his idiosyncrasies. But each, before he can honestly assent to the Catholic claim, has to be in possession of a reason or reasons adequate to convince him of the legitimacy of such assent. This reason, or reasons, constitute his personal "grounds of credibility."

It is important to recognize that we may be unable to articulate, may even be to a large extent apparently unconscious of, many of the components of our "grounds of credibility." A man may have a perfectly reasonable conviction of the moral worth of his father, and yet be sadly at a loss when asked to justify that belief. Unnumbered tiny incidents have conspired to support it, and only a fraction of these can be recalled separately to memory; while perhaps none of them, taken by itself, points clearly in only one direction. It may be taken for granted that no one can give a completely adequate account of the reasons actually underlying and really justifying his Catholic faith.

Argument from Theism to Christianity to Catholicism

Perhaps, however, it will be worth while to give in outline one set of considerations that may appeal to a certain type of mind. A man may say: Faced with the temptation to agnosticism -- i.e. to confess that the mystery of existence entirely defeats me -- I find that I prefer a hypothesis which may prove to be mistaken rather than no hypothesis at all. For if I have no hypothesis I cannot possibly be in possession of truth; while any hypothesis, till proved untenable, may be at least an approximate truth. I will therefore assume, at least till I am forced to surrender the assumption, that everything has an explanation. This means that truth does not fall short of the totality of experienced data.

A simple explanation of the data shows that every finite reality requires, for its explanation, an infinite Reality which is Being in the full connotation of that word -- Absolute Immutable Perfection, not less than personal because capable of explaining the existence of personality. This Being is what religion calls God. When I now survey human history I see that, whereas the idea of Deity is confused and diminished in all kinds of ways in the religious philosophies and world-views which have shaped men's lives in divers times and places, it shines with overpowering clearness in the Israelite-Christian-Islamic tradition; where it is found not as the conclusion of a metaphysical argument, but as the purport of an alleged self-revelation on the part of Deity Itself. This clear beacon of revelational (and ethical) monotheism poured forth its light in the Judaism of the generation in which Christianity took its rise. But with shattering suddenness a mortal blow was struck at Judaism as a religion just at the moment when Christianity came to take Israel's place as the great witness of God to mankind.

The differentia of Christianity, as compared with Judaism, is its belief that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate. On examination, I realise that this idea of God self-revealed and self-bestowed in a human nature is the apogee of the idea of God revealing himself in terms apprehensible to man's finite cognitive powers. Islam, on the other hand, is clearly a hybrid by-product of Judaism and Christianity. Christianity, for its part, has from the beginning been a social religion; has had the Church as its vehicle. It has been ethical, sacramental, corporate, dogmatic, and (as a consequence of the last), infallibilistic. And as I look out on the Christian world today I am sure that Catholicism is the central Christian phenomenon, compared with which both Eastern Orthodoxy on the one hand and the Protean variations of Protestantism on the other, are manifestly either divergencies from type or examples of arrested development.

If, then, I am to refuse agnosticism, I must confess that, face to face with the Catholic fact, no other hypothesis can maintain its plausibility. If God exists, he could not possibly blame any reasonable man for inferring that Catholicism is right in claiming to be God's final self-revelation to mankind. I therefore revert to the question of the existence of God, and I find on examination that I am compelled to admit that God's existence is given, implicitly, in my experience of the things that are not themselves God. Here I stand with the moral responsibility that is involved in the very fact of my self-consciousness as an intelligent being, and I cannot, without gross moral failure, refrain from stepping forward into Catholicism.

Personal Act of Faith vs. "Actual Faith"

Obviously, such a statement as the above can only be a stunted precise of the real argument as it may shape itself in a living mind. Obviously, each step or element in the argument rests on a number of unstated assumptions about which we may suppose our enquirer to be satisfied or to have satisfied himself. And obviously, he is likely to be in fact depending on a host of other considerations, not relevant to this particular line of approach, yet converging with it on the same goal. The point which I wish now to emphasize is that all these stated and unstated considerations constitute, in theological language, not the motive of the man's faith but the grounds upon which he judges it reasonable to make his act of faith.

For actual faith we have to go a stage further. We suppose that, on a review of the grounds of credibility, our enquirer judges that it is his moral duty to accept the Catholic Church's account of herself -- to "step forward into Catholicism." He at once realizes that the Church's claim, for its own message, is that made by St. Paul, that it is "not a message that originates from men but a message from God" (1 Thess 2:13). More precisely, he realizes that the Church is endowed by Christ with that teaching authority which he himself had received from his heavenly Father. He thus finds that, in accepting the Church's teaching, he is face to face with God the Revealer, and his act of intellectual "submission" becomes an act of religious worship. The Church teaches that at this point God bestows upon him a supernatural certainty which in no sense presupposes the infallibility of his previous reasoning but is a reflection of the "evidence" of the revealed truth. The ultimate source of the particular certainty which, it is alleged, characterizes Catholic faith, is neither the infallibility of the Church nor any supposed infallibility of the believer, but the veracity of God himself. God, the supreme truth self-revealed, is himself the "motive of faith."

More Misunderstandings and Errors of Salmon

It is perhaps desirable to comment on some details in the part of the Abridgement which have not yet been sufficiently dealt with. On page 16, Salmon suggests that a prospective convert is asked to believe that he has been hitherto following "a way which must end in your eternal destruction." But it must be remembered that it is not religious error, but blameworthy religious error, that is to say error due to a moral fault on the part of the person in error, that Catholics hold to be liable to divine punishment. In the overwhelming majority of cases, non-Catholic religious persons are probably "not guilty" in this way. Guilt may occur when a man's conscience tells him that he ought to re-examine his position, and he nevertheless omits to do so.

On page 18f, Salmon contrasts a Protestant's deference to the theologian with the Catholic's deference to "Pius IX...an Italian ecclesiastic, of no reputation for learning." But, of course, a Catholic does not defer to the Pope because of his natural qualities or acquired theological skill, but because (as the Catholic believes) the Pope is assisted by divine Providence when he pronounces an ex cathedra definition: "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise. Thou hast concealed these things from the wise and prudent and has revealed them unto little ones."

On page 22 Salmon states the alleged circular argument for Catholicism, with reference to Scripture texts, as follows:

"They say, 'The Church is infallible, because the Scriptures testify that she is so, and the Scriptures testify this because the Church infallibly declares that such is their meaning'" [74]; and he goes on: "We find ourselves in the same circle if we try to prove the Church's infallibility by antiquity, sayings of the Fathers, by reason, or in any other way. The advocates of the Church of Rome have constantly maintained that, on religious questions, nothing but the Church's authority can give us certainty....All the attempts of Roman Catholic controversialists to show the helplessness of men without the Church make it impossible to have any confidence in their success in finding the Church." [75]

The names of "advocates of the Church of Rome" who land themselves in this argumentative circle are not given. I cannot defend "advocates" unknown to me who adopt a line of argument which I do not accept. On the contrary, I would point out that the Church is one of the strongest "advocates" of the reliability of human reasoning powers when applied in a natural way upon their appropriate subject matter. The [First] Vatican Council stated that the Church holds and teaches "that God, the Source and Goal of all things, can be certainly recognized by the natural light of human reason." It further states God has deigned to give not only the inner help of the Holy Spirit but (so that the obedience of faith may harmonize with reason)

"external arguments in favour of his revelation, namely divine deeds and especially [imprimis] miracles and prophecies....which are most certain signs of divine revelation and are fitted to the understanding of all men." [76]

Right reason, in fact, "shows the foundations of faith." [77] On page 25 Salmon argues that

"the truth of the conclusion of a long line of arguments cannot be more sure than our assurance of the truth of each link in the argument, and of the validity of each step in the inference."

To this I reply that the grounds of credibility of the Catholic Church are not the end of a single line of reasoning, but the meeting-point of a series of converging arguments -- like, as I have suggested above, the grounds we have for our estimate of the character of someone we love. Many adult converts will remember how it was first one thing, then another, that made them feel that the Catholic claims required to be investigated; and how a time came when their defenses against Catholicism began to crack first at one point, then at another, till at last they felt themselves being drawn by a pull of manifold quality but of a strength like that of some tremendous love affair; with the difference that they felt perhaps no particular emotional attraction to the faith, were indeed acutely conscious of the terrible sacrifices involved in its acceptance, and yet loyalty to their own intellectual and moral conscience demanded in the end that they should take the "mortal leap" into life.

We return at page 26 to Newman, with the quotation "Faith must make a venture and is rewarded by sight" (Loss and Gain, 1903, page 343). It would perhaps suffice to point out that these words are spoken, in the novel from which they are taken, by a non-Catholic fictional character, and it is not usual to assume that a novelist believes whatever he makes one of his characters say. But I prefer to remark that there is a quite unobjectionable meaning that can be put upon these words. Faith may be perfectly reasonable, may be something recognized coolly as a duty, and yet it will always be a "venture" because though reason tells us to believe in the word of God's accredited messenger (be that messenger Christ or Christ's Church), yet the content of the message includes mysteries which the reason can never fathom.

Queen Elizabeth I is credited with a remark about the Blessed Sacrament as follows: "What our Lord himself doth make it, that I do believe and take it." There was obviously a venture of faith here, since however certain the Queen was that Christ was a true Teacher, the thing he taught when he said "This Is My Body" is profoundly mysterious. But faith, says the character in the novel, "is rewarded by sight." This is only strictly true when, in heaven, faith gives place to vision. There is, however, a kind of truth about it even in this life, at least for some people.

Newman himself says that "from the time I became a Catholic....I have been in perfect peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt." [78] This is an interesting echo of the concluding quotation in the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine written at the time of his conversion. He there quotes in Latin from the Song of Simeon: "Now, Lord, thou lettest thy servant depart, according to thy word, in peace, because my eyes have seen Thy salvation."

If the reader is not already wearied by this long list of points in this chapter of the Abridgement which call for correction, there is still one more (on page 27), where Salmon says that a Catholic "must reject every attempt to test the teaching of his Church by reason or Scripture or antiquity," since the Church's "first principle" is "that her teaching shall be subjected to no criticism." On this I observe as follows:

(1) In the Church's mind an intelligent adult is not ripe for reception into the Church until he has been duly instructed and is morally certain that he has, as it is often but perhaps inaccurately described, "received the grace of faith"; [79]

(2) The Church protects her "little ones" from unsettling literature just as a human parent would; but

(3) she encourages her more capable sons and daughters to study and understand her credentials and the objections which are made against her claim, not only to strengthen the substructure of their own faith but to equip them for the propagation of the truth.

END OF CHAPTER THREE


ENDNOTES for Chapter III: The Alleged Argument in a Circle

[58] S, 15. [59] loc cit. [60] Denz, No 1893. [61] De Principiis, prol, ii. This passage survives only in a Latin translation. By "Churches" Origen means the several local Churches of which the universal Church consists. [62] In Num hom xxv, 4 (extant only in Latin). [63] But in early times schismatics as such were sometimes called heretics. [64] Entstehung, 18. This reference also I owe to Batiffol, op cit. See also "Apostleship" by K.H. Regenstorf in Bible Key Words from Kittel. The great Protestant scholar Oscar Cullmann has seen that the infallibility of the Apostles is involved in the New Testament idea of Christianity. [65] Jugie, Theologia Dogmatica Christianorum Orientalium ab Eccl Catholica Dissidentium (1930), iv, 464. [66] S, 15f. [67] S, 17. [68] S, 21. [69] See Certainty, by K.I. Trethowan, 9-11. [70] When Salmon says (35) : "Dr. Newman....is certain the Pope is infallible, and I am certain he is not", Salmon is using the word "certain" as synonymous with "convinced"; but Newman's certainty was something higher than conviction. We are only "certain" if we "know"; and if we "know" we cannot be mistaken. [71] Grammar of Assent (1903), 224f. The whole passage, to the end of page 227, is worth reading. [72] Of course a scientist may say he is certain when he is only "convinced." Certainty with regard to an experimental fact is more likely to be attained than certainty about theory. [73] S, 30. [74] In fact the Church argues in support of her own claim to be infallible from the Scriptures taken not as inspired documents subject to her authoritative explanation, but as historical documents subject to historical criticism. [75] S, 22. [76] Denz, No 1785, 1790. [77] ibid, No 1799. [78] Apologia, 238. The Apologia was written some 18 years after its author's conversion. [79] In many cases the grace of faith will have been given at Baptism and the baptized person, growing up in a non-Catholic body and never sinning gravely against the light, will need not the grace of faith but the grace of conversion.

go to previous go to previous Back to B.C. Butler's Reply to Salmon's Infallibility go to nextgo to next

Chapter 1 -- Chapter 2 -- Chapter 3 -- Chapter 4 -- Chapter 5 -- Chapter 6 -- Chapter 7 -- Chapter 8 -- Chapter 9 -- Chapter 10 -- Chapter 11

See also March/May 1901 issues of Irish Ecclesiastical Record replying to Salmon, about 50+ pages! (PDF)

Edited by P


Back to Apologetics Articles

Back to Home Page

About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links