An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine
Part 1, Chapter 3: On the Historical Argument in Behalf of the Existing Developments
ON THE HISTORICAL ARGUMENT IN BEHALF OF THE EXISTING DEVELOPMENTS.
METHOD OF PROOF.
It seems, then, that we have to deal with a case something like the following: Certain doctrines come to us, professing to be Apostolic, and possessed of such high antiquity that, though we are only able to assign the date of their formal establishment to the fourth, or the fifth, or the eighth, or the thirteenth century, as it may happen, yet their substance may, for what appears, be coeval with the Apostles, and be expressed or implied in texts of Scripture. Further, these existing doctrines are universally considered, without any question, in each age to be the echo of the doctrines of the times immediately preceding them, and thus are continually thrown back to a date indefinitely early, even though their ultimate junction with the Apostolic Creed be out of sight and unascertainable. Moreover, they are confessed to form one body one with another, so that to reject one is to disparage the rest; and they include within the range of their system even those primary articles of faith, as the Incarnation, which many an impugner of the said doctrinal system, as a system, professes to accept, and which, do what he will, he cannot intelligibly separate, whether in point of evidence or of internal character, from others which he disavows. Further, these doctrines occupy the whole field of theology, and leave nothing to be supplied, except in detail, by any other system; while, in matter of fact, no rival system is forthcoming, so that we have to choose between this theology and none at all. Moreover, this theology alone makes provision for that guidance of opinion and conduct, which seems externally to be the special aim of Revelation; and fulfils the promises of Scripture, by adapting itself to the various problems of thought and practice which meet us in life. And, further, it is the nearest approach, to say the least, to the religious sentiment, and what is called _ethos_, of the early Church, nay, to that of the Apostles and Prophets; for all will agree so far as this, that Elijah, Jeremiah, the Baptist, and St. Paul are in their history and mode of life (I do not speak of measures of grace, no, nor of doctrine and conduct, for these are the points in dispute, but) in what is external and meets the eye (and this is no slight resemblance when things are viewed as a whole and from a distance),--these saintly and heroic men, I say, are more like a Dominican preacher, or a Jesuit missionary, or a Carmelite friar, more like St. Toribio, or St. Vincent Ferrer, or St. Francis Xavier, or St. Alphonso Liguori, than to any individuals, or to any classes of men, that can be found in other communions. And then, in addition, there is the high antecedent probability that Providence would watch over His own work, and would direct and ratify those developments of doctrine which were inevitable.
If this is, on the whole, a true view of the general shape under which the existing body of developments, commonly called Catholic, present themselves before us, antecedently to our looking into the particular evidence on which they stand, I think we shall be at no loss to determine what both logical truth and duty prescribe to us as to our reception of them. It is very little to say that we should treat them as we are accustomed to treat other alleged facts and truths and the evidence for them, such as come to us with a fair presumption in their favour. Such are of every day's occurrence; and what is our behaviour towards them? We meet them, not with suspicion and criticism, but with a frank confidence. We do not in the first instance exercise our reason upon opinions which are received, but our faith. We do not begin with doubting; we take them on trust, and we put them on trial, and that, not of set purpose, but spontaneously. We prove them by using them, by applying them to the subject-matter, or the evidence, or the body of circumstances, to which they belong, as if they gave it its interpretation or its colour as a matter of course; and only when they fail, in the event, in illustrating phenomena or harmonizing facts, do we discover that we must reject the doctrines or the statements which we had in the first instance taken for granted. Again, we take the evidence for them, whatever it be, as a whole, as forming a combined proof; and we interpret what is obscure in separate portions by such portions as are clear. Moreover, we bear with these in proportion to the strength of the antecedent probability in their favour, we are patient with difficulties in their application, with apparent objections to them drawn from other matters of fact, deficiency in their comprehensiveness, or want of neatness in their working, provided their claims on our attention are considerable.
Thus most men take Newton's theory of gravitation for granted, because it is generally received, and use it without rigidly testing it first, each for himself, (as it can be tested,) by phenomena; and if phenomena are found which it does not satisfactorily solve, this does not trouble us, for a way there must be of explaining them, consistently with that theory, though it does not occur to ourselves. Again, if we found a concise or obscure passage in one of Cicero's letters to Atticus, we should not scruple to admit as its true explanation a more explicit statement in his _Ad Familiares_. Æschylus is illustrated by Sophocles in point of language, and Thucydides by Aristophanes, in point of history. Horace, Persius, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Juvenal may be made to throw light upon each other. Even Plato may gain a commentator in Plotinus, and St. Anselm is interpreted by St. Thomas. Two writers, indeed, may be already known to differ, and then we do not join them together as fellow-witnesses to common truths; Luther has taken on himself to explain St. Augustine, and Voltaire, Pascal, without persuading the world that they have a claim to do so; but in no case do we begin with asking whether a comment does not disagree with its text, when there is a _primâ facie_ congruity between them. We elucidate the text by the comment, though, or rather because, the comment is fuller and more explicit than the text.
Thus too we deal with Scripture, when we have to interpret the prophetical text and the types of the Old Testament. The event which is the development is also the interpretation of the prediction; it provides a fulfilment by imposing a meaning. And we accept certain events as the fulfilment of prophecy from the broad correspondence of the one with the other, in spite of many incidental difficulties. The difficulty, for instance, in accounting for the fact that the dispersion of the Jews followed upon their keeping, not their departing from their Law, does not hinder us from insisting on their present state as an argument against the infidel. Again, we readily submit our reason on competent authority, and accept certain events as an accomplishment of predictions, which seem very far removed from them; as in the passage, "Out of Egypt have I called My Son." Nor do we find a difficulty, when St. Paul appeals to a text of the Old Testament, which stands otherwise in our Hebrew copies; as the words, "A body hast Thou prepared Me." We receive such difficulties on faith, and leave them to take care of themselves. Much less do we consider mere fulness in the interpretation, or definiteness, or again strangeness, as a sufficient reason for depriving the text, or the action to which it is applied, of the advantage of such interpretation. We make it no objection that the words themselves come short of it, or that the sacred writer did not contemplate it, or that a previous fulfilment satisfies it. A reader who came to the inspired text by himself, beyond the influence of that traditional acceptation which happily encompasses it, would be surprised to be told that the Prophet's words, "A virgin shall conceive," &c., or "Let all the Angels of God worship Him," refer to our Lord; but assuming the intimate connexion between Judaism and Christianity, and the inspiration of the New Testament, we do not scruple to believe it. We rightly feel that it is no prejudice to our receiving the prophecy of Balaam in its Christian meaning, that it is adequately fulfilled in David; or the history of Jonah, that it is poetical in character and has a moral in itself like an apologue; or the meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, that it is too brief and simple to mean any great thing, as St. Paul interprets it.
Butler corroborates these remarks, when speaking of the particular evidence for Christianity. "The obscurity or unintelligibleness," he says, "of one part of a prophecy does not in any degree invalidate the proof of foresight, arising from the appearing completion of those other parts which are understood. For the case is evidently the same as if those parts, which are not understood, were lost, or not written at all, or written in an unknown tongue. Whether this observation be commonly attended to or not, it is so evident that one can scarce bring one's self to set down an instance in common matters to exemplify it."[104:1] He continues, "Though a man should be incapable, for want of learning, or opportunities of inquiry, or from not having turned his studies this way, even so much as to judge whether particular prophecies have been throughout completely fulfilled; yet he may see, in general, that they have been fulfilled to such a degree, as, upon very good ground, to be convinced of foresight more than human in such prophecies, and of such events being intended by them. For the same reason also, though, by means of the deficiencies in civil history, and the different accounts of historians, the most learned should not be able to make out to satisfaction that such parts of the prophetic history have been minutely and throughout fulfilled; yet a very strong proof of foresight may arise from that general completion of them which is made out; as much proof of foresight, perhaps, as the Giver of prophecy intended should ever be afforded by such parts of prophecy."
He illustrates this by the parallel instance of fable and concealed satire. "A man might be assured that he understood what an author intended by a fable or parable, related without any application or moral, merely from seeing it to be easily capable of such application, and that such a moral might naturally be deduced from it. And he might be fully assured that such persons and events were intended in a satirical writing, merely from its being applicable to them. And, agreeably to the last observation, he might be in a good measure satisfied of it, though he were not enough informed in affairs, or in the story of such persons, to understand half the satire. For his satisfaction, that he understood the meaning, the intended meaning, of these writings, would be greater or less, in proportion as he saw the general turn of them to be capable of such application, and in proportion to the number of particular things capable of it." And he infers hence, that if a known course of events, or the history of a person as our Lord, is found to answer on the whole to the prophetical text, it becomes fairly the right interpretation of that text, in spite of difficulties in detail. And this rule of interpretation admits of an obvious application to the parallel case of doctrinal passages, when a certain creed, which professes to have been derived from Revelation, comes recommended to us on strong antecedent grounds, and presents no strong opposition to the sacred text.
The same author observes that the first fulfilment of a prophecy is no valid objection to a second, when what seems like a second has once taken place; and, in like manner, an interpretation of doctrinal texts may be literal, exact, and sufficient, yet in spite of all this may not embrace what is really the full scope of their meaning; and that fuller scope, if it so happen, may be less satisfactory and precise, as an interpretation, than their primary and narrow sense. Thus, if the Protestant interpretation of the sixth chapter of St. John were true and sufficient for its letter, (which of course I do not grant,) that would not hinder the Roman, which at least is quite compatible with the text, being the higher sense and the only rightful. In such cases the justification of the larger and higher interpretation lies in some antecedent probability, such as Catholic consent; and the ground of the narrow is the context, and the rules of grammar; and, whereas the argument of the critical commentator is that the sacred text _need not_ mean more than the letter, those who adopt a deeper view of it maintain, as Butler in the case of prophecy, that we have no warrant for putting a limit to the sense of words which are not human but divine.
Now it is but a parallel exercise of reasoning to interpret the previous history of a doctrine by its later development, and to consider that it contains the later _in posse_ and in the divine intention; and the grudging and jealous temper, which refuses to enlarge the sacred text for the fulfilment of prophecy, is the very same that will occupy itself in carping at the Ante-nicene testimonies for Nicene or Medieval doctrines and usages. When "I and My Father are One" is urged in proof of our Lord's unity with the Father, heretical disputants do not see why the words must be taken to denote more than a unity of will. When "This is My Body" is alleged as a warrant for the change of the Bread into the Body of Christ, they explain away the words into a figure, because such is their most obvious interpretation. And, in like manner, when Roman Catholics urge St. Gregory's invocations, they are told that these are but rhetorical; or St. Clement's allusion to Purgatory, that perhaps it was Platonism; or Origen's language about praying to Angels and the merits of Martyrs, that it is but an instance of his heterodoxy; or St. Cyprian's exaltation of the _Cathedra Petri_, that he need not be contemplating more than a figurative or abstract see; or the general testimony to the spiritual authority of Rome in primitive times, that it arose from her temporal greatness; or Tertullian's language about Tradition and the Church, that he took a lawyer's view of those subjects; whereas the early condition, and the evidence, of each doctrine respectively, ought consistently to be interpreted by means of that development which was ultimately attained.
Moreover, since, as above shown, the doctrines all together make up one integral religion, it follows that the several evidences which respectively support those doctrines belong to a whole, and must be thrown into a common stock, and all are available in the defence of any. A collection of weak evidences makes up a strong evidence; again, one strong argument imparts cogency to collateral arguments which are in themselves weak. For instance, as to the miracles, whether of Scripture or the Church, "the number of those which carry with them their own proof now, and are believed for their own sake, is small, and they furnish the grounds on which we receive the rest."[107:1] Again, no one would fancy it necessary, before receiving St. Matthew's Gospel, to find primitive testimony in behalf of every chapter and verse: when only part is proved to have been in existence in ancient times, the whole is proved, because that part is but part of a whole; and when the whole is proved, it may shelter such parts as for some incidental reason have less evidence of their antiquity. Again, it would be enough to show that St. Augustine knew the Italic version of the Scriptures, if he quoted it once or twice. And, in like manner, it will be generally admitted that the proof of a Second Person in the Godhead lightens greatly the burden of proof necessary for belief in a Third Person; and that, the Atonement being in some sort a correlative of eternal punishment, the evidence for the former doctrine virtually increases the evidence for the latter. And so, a Protestant controversialist would feel that it told little, except as an omen of victory, to reduce an opponent to a denial of Transubstantiation, if he still adhered firmly to the Invocation of Saints, Purgatory, the Seven Sacraments, and the doctrine of merit; and little too for one of his own party to condemn the adoration of the Host, the supremacy of Rome, the acceptableness of celibacy, auricular confession, communion under one kind, and tradition, if he was zealous for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The principle on which these remarks are made has the sanction of some of the deepest of English Divines. Bishop Butler, for instance, who has so often been quoted here, thus argues in behalf of Christianity itself, though confessing at the same time the disadvantage which in consequence the revealed system lies under. "Probable proofs," he observes, "by being added, not only increase the evidence, but multiply it. Nor should I dissuade any one from setting down what he thought made for the contrary side. . . . The truth of our religion, like the truth of common matters, is to be judged by all the evidence taken together. And unless the whole series of things which may be alleged in this argument, and every particular thing in it, can reasonably be supposed to have been by accident (for here the stress of the argument for Christianity lies), then is the truth of it proved; in like manner, as if, in any common case, numerous events acknowledged were to be alleged in proof of any other event disputed, the truth of the disputed event would be proved, not only if any one of the acknowledged ones did of itself clearly imply it, but though no one of them singly did so, if the whole of the acknowledged events, taken together, could not in reason be supposed to have happened, unless the disputed one were true.
"It is obvious how much advantage the nature of this evidence gives to those persons who attack Christianity, especially in conversation. For it is easy to show, in a short and lively manner, that such and such things are liable to objection, that this and another thing is of little weight in itself; but impossible to show, in like manner, the united force of the whole argument in one view."[109:1]
In like manner, Mr. Davison condemns that "vicious manner of reasoning," which represents "any insufficiency of the proof, in its several branches, as so much objection;" which manages "the inquiry so as to make it appear that, if the divided arguments be inconclusive one by one, we have a series of exceptions to the truths of religion instead of a train of favourable presumptions, growing stronger at every step. The disciple of Scepticism is taught that he cannot fully rely on this or that motive of belief, that each of them is insecure, and the conclusion is put upon him that they ought to be discarded one after another, instead of being connected and combined."[109:2] No work perhaps affords more specimens in a short compass of the breach of the principle of reasoning inculcated in these passages, than Barrow's Treatise on the Pope's Supremacy.
The remarks of these two writers relate to the duty of combining doctrines which belong to one body, and evidences which relate to one subject; and few persons would dispute it in the abstract. The application which has been here made of the principle is this,--that where a doctrine comes recommended to us by strong presumptions of its truth, we are bound to receive it unsuspiciously, and use it as a key to the evidences to which it appeals, or the facts which it professes to systematize, whatever may be our eventual judgment about it. Nor is it enough to answer, that the voice of our particular Church, denying this so-called Catholicism, is an antecedent probability which outweighs all others and claims our prior obedience, loyally and without reasoning, to its own interpretation. This may excuse individuals certainly, in beginning with doubt and distrust of the Catholic developments, but it only shifts the blame to the particular Church, Anglican or other, which thinks itself qualified to enforce so peremptory a judgment against the one and only successor, heir and representative of the Apostolic college.
STATE OF THE EVIDENCE.
Bacon is celebrated for destroying the credit of a method of reasoning much resembling that which it has been the object of this Chapter to recommend. "He who is not practised in doubting," he says, "but forward in asserting and laying down such principles as he takes to be approved, granted and manifest, and, according to the established truth thereof, receives or rejects everything, as squaring with or proving contrary to them, is only fitted to mix and confound things with words, reason with madness, and the world with fable and fiction, but not to interpret the works of nature."[110:1] But he was aiming at the application of these modes of reasoning to what should be strict investigation, and that in the province of physics; and this he might well censure, without attempting, (what is impossible,) to banish them from history, ethics, and religion.
Physical facts are present; they are submitted to the senses, and the senses may be satisfactorily tested, corrected, and verified. To trust to anything but sense in a matter of sense is irrational; why are the senses given us but to supersede less certain, less immediate informants? We have recourse to reason or authority to determine facts, when the senses fail us; but with the senses we begin. We deduce, we form inductions, we abstract, we theorize from facts; we do not begin with surmise and conjecture, much less do we look to the tradition of past ages, or the decree of foreign teachers, to determine matters which are in our hands and under our eyes.
But it is otherwise with history, the facts of which are not present; it is otherwise with ethics, in which phenomena are more subtle, closer, and more personal to individuals than other facts, and not referable to any common standard by which all men can decide upon them. In such sciences, we cannot rest upon mere facts, if we would, because we have not got them. We must do our best with what is given us, and look about for aid from any quarter; and in such circumstances the opinions of others, the traditions of ages, the prescriptions of authority, antecedent auguries, analogies, parallel cases, these and the like, not indeed taken at random, but, like the evidence from the senses, sifted and scrutinized, obviously become of great importance.
And, further, if we proceed on the hypothesis that a merciful Providence has supplied us with means of gaining such truth as concerns us, in different subject-matters, though with different instruments, then the simple question is, what those instruments are which are proper to a particular case. If they are of the appointment of a Divine Protector, we may be sure that they will lead to the truth, whatever they are. The less exact methods of reasoning may do His work as well as the more perfect, if He blesses them. He may bless antecedent probabilities in ethical inquiries, who blesses experience and induction in the art of medicine.
And if it is reasonable to consider medicine, or architecture, or engineering, in a certain sense, divine arts, as being divinely ordained means of our receiving divine benefits, much more may ethics be called divine; while as to religion, it directly professes to be the method of recommending ourselves to Him and learning His will. If then it be His gracious purpose that we should learn it, the means He gives for learning it, be they promising or not to human eyes, are sufficient, because they are His. And what they are at this particular time, or to this person, depends on His disposition. He may have imposed simple prayer and obedience on some men as the instrument of their attaining to the mysteries and precepts of Christianity. He may lead others through the written word, at least for some stages of their course; and if the formal basis on which He has rested His revelations be, as it is, of an historical and philosophical character, then antecedent probabilities, subsequently corroborated by facts, will be sufficient, as in the parallel case of other history, to bring us safely to the matter, or at least to the organ, of those revelations.
Moreover, in subjects which belong to moral proof, such, I mean, as history, antiquities, political science, ethics, metaphysics, and theology, which are pre-eminently such, and especially in theology and ethics, antecedent probability may have a real weight and cogency which it cannot have in experimental science; and a mature politician or divine may have a power of reaching matters of fact in consequence of his peculiar habits of mind, which is seldom given in the same degree to physical inquirers, who, for the purposes of this particular pursuit, are very much on a level. And this last remark at least is confirmed by Lord Bacon, who confesses "Our method of discovering the sciences does not much depend upon subtlety and strength of genius, but lies level to almost every capacity and understanding;"[113:1] though surely sciences there are, in which genius is everything, and rules all but nothing.
It will be a great mistake then to suppose that, because this eminent philosopher condemned presumption and prescription in inquiries into facts which are external to us, present with us, and common to us all, therefore authority, tradition, verisimilitude, analogy, and the like, are mere "idols of the den" or "of the theatre" in history or ethics. Here we may oppose to him an author in his own line as great as he is: "Experience," says Bacon, "is by far the best demonstration, provided it dwell in the experiment; for the transferring of it to other things judged alike is very fallacious, unless done with great exactness and regularity."[113:2] Niebuhr explains or corrects him: "Instances are not arguments," he grants, when investigating an obscure question of Roman history,--"instances are not arguments, but in history are scarcely of less force; above all, where the parallel they exhibit is in the progressive development of institutions."[113:3] Here this sagacious writer recognizes the true principle of historical logic, while he exemplifies it.
The same principle is involved in the well-known maxim of Aristotle, that "it is much the same to admit the probabilities of a mathematician, and to look for demonstration from an orator." In all matters of human life, presumption verified by instances, is our ordinary instrument of proof, and, if the antecedent probability is great, it almost supersedes instances. Of course, as is plain, we may err grievously in the antecedent view which we start with, and in that case, our conclusions may be wide of the truth; but that only shows that we had no right to assume a premiss which was untrustworthy, not that our reasoning was faulty.
I am speaking of the process itself, and its correctness is shown by its general adoption. In religious questions a single text of Scripture is all-sufficient with most people, whether the well disposed or the prejudiced, to prove a doctrine or a duty in cases when a custom is established or a tradition is strong. "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together" is sufficient for establishing social, public, nay, Sunday worship. "Where the tree falleth, there shall it lie," shows that our probation ends with life. "Forbidding to marry" determines the Pope to be the man of sin. Again, it is plain that a man's after course for good or bad brings out the passing words or obscure actions of previous years. Then, on a retrospect, we use the event as a presumptive interpretation of the past, of those past indications of his character which, considered as evidence, were too few and doubtful to bear insisting on at the time, and would have seemed ridiculous, had we attempted to do so. And the antecedent probability is even found to triumph over contrary evidence, as well as to sustain what agrees with it. Every one may know of cases in which a plausible charge against an individual was borne down at once by weight of character, though that character was incommensurate of course with the circumstances which gave rise to suspicion, and had no direct neutralizing force to destroy it. On the other hand, it is sometimes said, and even if not literally true will serve in illustration, that not a few of those who are put on trial in our criminal courts are not legally guilty of the particular crime on which a verdict is found against them, being convicted not so much upon the particular evidence, as on the presumption arising from their want of character and the memory of their former offences. Nor is it in slight matters only or unimportant that we thus act. Our dearest interests, our personal welfare, our property, our health, our reputation, we freely hazard, not on proof, but on a simple probability, which is sufficient for our conviction, because prudence dictates to us so to take it. We must be content to follow the law of our being in religious matters as well as in secular.
But there is more to say on the subordinate position which direct evidence holds among the _motiva_ of conviction in most matters. It is no paradox to say that there is a certain scantiness, nay an absence of evidence, which may even tell in favour of statements which require to be made good. There are indeed cases in which we cannot discover the law of silence or deficiency, which are then simply unaccountable. Thus Lucian, for whatever reason, hardly notices Roman authors or affairs.[115:1] Maximus Tyrius, who wrote several of his works at Rome, nevertheless makes no reference to Roman history. Paterculus, the historian, is mentioned by no ancient writer except Priscian. What is more to our present purpose, Seneca, Pliny the elder, and Plutarch are altogether silent about Christianity; and perhaps Epictetus also, and the Emperor Marcus. The Jewish Mishna, too, compiled about A.D. 180, is silent about Christianity; and the Jerusalem and Babylonish Talmuds almost so, though the one was compiled about A.D. 300, and the other A.D. 500.[115:2] Eusebius again, is very uncertain in his notice of facts: he does not speak of St. Methodius, nor of St. Anthony, nor of the martyrdom of St. Perpetua, nor of the miraculous powers of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus; and he mentions Constantine's luminous cross, not in his Ecclesiastical History, where it would naturally find a place, but in his Life of the Emperor. Moreover, those who receive that wonderful occurrence, which is, as one who rejects it allows,[116:1] "so inexplicable to the historical inquirer," have to explain the difficulty of the universal silence on the subject of all the Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, excepting Eusebius.
In like manner, Scripture has its unexplained omissions. No religious school finds its own tenets and usages on the surface of it. The remark applies also to the very context of Scripture, as in the obscurity which hangs over Nathanael or the Magdalen. It is a remarkable circumstance that there is no direct intimation all through Scripture that the Serpent mentioned in the temptation of Eve was the evil spirit, till we come to the vision of the Woman and Child, and their adversary, the Dragon, in the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse.
Omissions, thus absolute and singular, when they occur in the evidence of facts or doctrines, are of course difficulties; on the other hand, not unfrequently they admit of explanation. Silence may arise from the very notoriety of the facts in question, as in the case of the seasons, the weather, or other natural phenomena; or from their sacredness, as the Athenians would not mention the mythological Furies; or from external constraint, as the omission of the statues of Brutus and Cassius in the procession. Or it may proceed from fear or disgust, as on the arrival of unwelcome news; or from indignation, or hatred, or contempt, or perplexity, as Josephus is silent about Christianity, and Eusebius passes over the death of Crispus in his life of Constantine; or from other strong feeling, as implied in the poet's sentiment, "Give sorrow words;" or from policy or other prudential motive, or propriety, as Queen's Speeches do not mention individuals, however influential in the political world, and newspapers after a time were silent about the cholera. Or, again, from the natural and gradual course which the fact took, as in the instance of inventions and discoveries, the history of which is on this account often obscure; or from loss of documents or other direct testimonies, as we should not look for theological information in a treatise on geology.
Again, it frequently happens that omissions proceed on some law, as the varying influence of an external cause; and then, so far from being a perplexity, they may even confirm such evidence as occurs, by becoming, as it were, its correlative. For instance, an obstacle may be assignable, person, or principle, or accident, which ought, if it exists, to reduce or distort the indications of a fact to that very point, or in that very direction, or with the variations, or in the order and succession, which do occur in its actual history. At first sight it might be a suspicious circumstance that but one or two manuscripts of some celebrated document were forthcoming; but if it were known that the sovereign power had exerted itself to suppress and destroy it at the time of its publication, and that the extant manuscripts were found just in those places where history witnessed to the failure of the attempt, the coincidence would be highly corroborative of that evidence which alone remained.
Thus it is possible to have too much evidence; that is, evidence so full or exact as to throw suspicion over the case for which it is adduced. The genuine Epistles of St. Ignatius contain none of those ecclesiastical terms, such as "Priest" or "See," which are so frequent afterwards; and they quote Scripture sparingly. The interpolated Epistles quote it largely; that is, they are too Scriptural to be Apostolic. Few persons, again, who are acquainted with the primitive theology, but will be sceptical at first reading of the authenticity of such works as the longer Creed of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, or St. Hippolytus contra Beronem, from the precision of the theological language, which is unsuitable to the Ante-nicene period.
The influence of circumstances upon the expression of opinion or testimony supplies another form of the same law of omission. "I am ready to admit," says Paley, "that the ancient Christian advocates did not insist upon the miracles in argument so frequently as I should have done. It was their lot to contend with notions of magical agency, against which the mere production of the facts was not sufficient for the convincing of their adversaries; I do not know whether they themselves thought it quite decisive of the controversy. But since it is proved, I conceive with certainty, that the sparingness with which they appealed to miracles was owing neither to their ignorance nor their doubt of the facts, it is at any rate an objection, not to the truth of the history, but to the judgment of its defenders."[118:1] And, in like manner, Christians were not likely to entertain the question of the abstract allowableness of images in the Catholic ritual, with the actual superstitions and immoralities of paganism before their eyes. Nor were they likely to determine the place of the Blessed Mary in our reverence, before they had duly secured, in the affections of the faithful, the supreme glory and worship of God Incarnate, her Eternal Lord and Son. Nor would they recognize Purgatory as a part of the Dispensation, till the world had flowed into the Church, and a habit of corruption had been largely superinduced. Nor could ecclesiastical liberty be asserted, till it had been assailed. Nor would a Pope arise, but in proportion as the Church was consolidated. Nor would monachism be needed, while martyrdoms were in progress. Nor could St. Clement give judgment on the doctrine of Berengarius, nor St. Dionysius refute the Ubiquists, nor St. Irenæus denounce the Protestant view of Justification, nor St. Cyprian draw up a theory of toleration. There is "a time for every purpose under the heaven;" "a time to keep silence and a time to speak."
Sometimes when the want of evidence for a series of facts or doctrines is unaccountable, an unexpected explanation or addition in the course of time is found as regards a portion of them, which suggests a ground of patience as regards the historical obscurity of the rest. Two instances are obvious to mention, of an accidental silence of clear primitive testimony as to important doctrines, and its removal. In the number of the articles of Catholic belief which the Reformation especially resisted, were the Mass and the sacramental virtue of Ecclesiastical Unity. Since the date of that movement, the shorter Epistles of St. Ignatius have been discovered, and the early Liturgies verified; and this with most men has put an end to the controversy about those doctrines. The good fortune which has happened to them, may happen to others; and though it does not, yet that it has happened to them, is to those others a sort of compensation for the obscurity in which their early history continues to be involved.
I may seem in these remarks to be preparing the way for a broad admission of the absence of any sanction in primitive Christianity in behalf of its medieval form, but I do not make them with this intention. Not from misgivings of this kind, but from the claims of a sound logic, I think it right to insist, that, whatever early testimonies I may bring in support of later developments of doctrine, are in great measure brought _ex abundante_, a matter of grace, not of compulsion. The _onus probandi_ is with those who assail a teaching which is, and has long been, in possession. As for positive evidence in our behalf, they must take what they can get, if they cannot get as much as they might wish, inasmuch as antecedent probabilities, as I have said, go so very far towards dispensing with it. It is a first strong point that, in an idea such as Christianity, developments cannot but be, and those surely divine, because it is divine; a second that, if so, they are those very ones which exist, because there are no others; and a third point is the fact that they are found just there, where true developments ought to be found,--namely, in the historic seats of Apostolical teaching and in the authoritative homes of immemorial tradition.
And, if it be said in reply that the difficulty of admitting these developments of doctrine lies, not merely in the absence of early testimony for them, but in the actual existence of distinct testimony against them,--or, as Chillingworth says, in "Popes against Popes, Councils against Councils,"--I answer, of course this will be said; but let the fact of this objection be carefully examined, and its value reduced to its true measure, before it is used in argument. I grant that there are "Bishops against Bishops in Church history, Fathers against Fathers, Fathers against themselves," for such differences in individual writers are consistent with, or rather are involved in the very idea of doctrinal development, and consequently are no real objection to it; the one essential question is whether the recognized organ of teaching, the Church herself, acting through Pope or Council as the oracle of heaven, has ever contradicted her own enunciations. If so, the hypothesis which I am advocating is at once shattered; but, till I have positive and distinct evidence of the fact, I am slow to give credence to the existence of so great an improbability.
[104:1] Anal. ii. 7.
[107:1] [On Miracles, Essay ii. 111.]
[109:1] Anal. ii. 7.
[109:2] On Prophecy, i. p. 28.
[110:1] Aphor. 5, vol. iv. p. xi. ed. 1815.
[113:1] Nov. Org. i. 2, § 26, vol. iv. p. 29.
[113:2] Nov. Org. § 70, p. 44.
[113:3] Hist. of Rome, vol. i. p. 345, ed. 1828.
[115:1] Lardner's Heath. Test. p. 22.
[115:2] Paley's Evid. p. i. prop. 1, 7.
[116:1] Milman, Christ. vol. ii. p. 352.
[118:1] Evidences, iii. 5.
Chapter 4: Instances in Illustration
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine - Part 1: Doctrinal Developments Viewed in Themselves
Chapter 1: On the Development of Ideas
Chapter 2: On the Antecedent Argument in Behalf of Developments in Christian Doctrine
Chapter 3: On the Historical Argument in Behalf of the Existing Developments
Chapter 4: Instances in Illustration
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine - Part 2: Doctrinal Developments Viewed Relatively to Doctrinal Corruptions
Chapter 5: Genuine Developments Contrasted with Corruptions
Chapter 6: Application of the Seven Notes to the Existing Developments of Christian Doctrine
Chapter 7: Application of the Second Note of a True Development
Chapter 8: Application of the Third Note of a True Development
Chapter 9: Application of the Fourth Note of a True Development
Chapter 10: Application of the Fifth Note of a True Development
Chapter 11: Application of the Sixth Note of a True Development
Chapter 12: Application of the Seventh Note of a True Development
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