"Authority in Matters of Faith" (Brownson answers a lawyer who asks, How can a fallible man believe an external infallible authority?)

Authority in Matters of Faith


                The question we propose to discuss in this article is opened in the note from the editor of the Catholic World, which we introduce, answering an objection to the infallibility of the church, made by a lawyer through a third person, and by an elaborate note from the lawyer in reply, and urging another and, in his judgment, a still more serious objection.  The editor’s note is:

“The objection of your friend against the infallible Bible interpreted by a fallible reason, as a sure rule of faith, is unanswerable.  Nothing stronger could be said against the Protestant position.

“His objection against the church, so far as it goes, if I understand it correctly, is also unanswerable.  It is quite evident that no agglomeration of fallible men can make an infallible church, either by the personal authority of the individuals or in virtue of their agglomeration.  But that is by no means the question with us.

“We deny that the church is simply an agglomeration of men; and we deny that the infallibility comes by the authority of its members in any way.

“As Christ is an Theantropical person, so also is the church a Theantropical society, of which Christ is the head, the Holy Ghost is the soul, and the regenerated men the body.  The infallibility comes from the Holy Ghost, through Christ, to the body.

“If it is so, it is evident that the infallibility will remain as long as the union shall last.  And in that supposition the learned lawyer cannot fail to see that infallibility does not, in any way, come to the body by the authority of its members, but from God, the only authoritative and absolute power in the world, which can bind the minds as well as the wills of men.

“That is the Catholic question, and the real position we maintain.”

                This speaks for itself, and the position it takes is not controverted.  But the lawyer says it does not meet the question, that is, we presume, the question as it is in his mind, though he had not previously expressed it.  He says:

“The note given me does not meet the question.  It is claimed the church is infallible because a divine institution – that is, because established by God.

“Now, admit it to be a divine institution, if it is to be presented for our acceptance, it must be for an acceptance of our fallible reason.

“For example, when the missionary carries the church to the heathen, does he not present it for their rational acceptance?  And if so, does he not ask their finite judgment to pass upon and accept the infinite and the absolute?

“Now, the point is this: if the thing or truth presented be infinite and absolute, and the person to whom it is presented be imperfect, fallible, and conditioned, how can the truth – or the church, if you please – appear otherwise to him than according to his finite and partial interpretation of it?

“The question in respect to the absolute is, not whether it be really true and absolute or not, but to what extent does the normal affirmation go respecting it. In short, must not the same argument obtain against the church as against the Bible?

“It comes the question of authority, and; if all intelligent authority resides in the person (and certainly each one must, from the nature of his constitution, be his own authority), then it follows that no authority whatever can reside in the state, the church, or in any mere institution or being outside of the person, whether that church or institution assume divinity or not.

“The authority is not in the so-called fact, but in the person to whom the so-called fact is presented, and who is called upon to pass upon it.

“The Baconian system is false, because it makes the so=-called fact the authority for itself; when plainly the very existence or comprehension of the so-called fact depends wholly on the person to whom it is presented.

“If each man is his own authority, according to the preceding remarks in this book, (and that is conceded), then an authoritative church is impossible, because it presents an authority external to me, and then asks me to accept it.  I admit that, if there is to be any church, it must be of divine origin. Even were the Bible inspired and infallible, I, being fallible, must interpret it fallibly, and therefore it must be the same to me for all intents and purposes as if it were an fallible book.  The same argument applies to the church as a divine, authoritative institution – what is outside of the man – that is, the so-called fact is not an authority for him; but he is the authority for it; if not an absolute authority, at any rate, the only authority possible.  The trouble arises from the Baconian philosophy, which has attempted to build up a system on facts so-called – without rejecting the authority for those facts – as if the authority were in the fact itself.”

                The objection is, apparently, the objection we ourselves bring to the Protestant rule of faith, namely, the Bible interpreted by private judgment.  The Bible may be the word of God and infallible, but our interpretation of it, or our private judgment in interpreting it, is fallible, and therefore we have in it and with it only a fallible rule of faith.  So the church may be a divine institution, and by the assistance of the Holy Ghost infallible; but her teaching is addressed to our intelligence, and must be passed upon by our private judgment, which is finite and fallible, therefore incompetent to pass upon the infinite and absolute.  Hence, the Catholic rule no more gives infallible faith than does the Protestant rule.  The principle of the objection the lawyer urges is that authority is intrinsic, not extrinsic; comes not from without, but from within, from the mind, and can never be greater than the mind itself; and as that is fallible, there is and can be no infallible authority for faith or belief.  The objection is simply that an infallible authority for the mind in matters of faith is impossible, because the mind is not itself infallible, and therefore incapable of an infallible act or assent.  This, we believe, is the objection in all its force.

                The objection rests on two principles, neither of which is tenable: first, that the mind or intellect is universally fallible; and, second, that the authority in matters of faith is in the mind itself, not out of it, and, therefore, belief in any thing on extrinsic authority is impossible.

1.The intellect is not universal or infinite, and does not and cannot know all things; but it is never false in what it knows, and in its own sphere is infallible; that is, the intellect is not false or fallible in what it knows, for everyone who knows knows that he knows.  The judgment is false or fallible only when and where and so far as knowledge fails.  Thus, St. Augustine says, Omnis qui fallitur, id quo fallitur, non intelligit. (Lib. Quaes. 83. Qu. 30) The error is not in the intellect or intelligence, but in the ignorance or non-intelligence.  Doubtless, we can and do err in our judgment of matters of which we are ignorant, of which we have only an imperfect knowledge, or when we undertake from what we do know to judge of things unknown, which is all that St. Thomas means when he says, falsitas est in intellectu. (Sum. Theo. Q. 18. Art. 3 in c.)  To deny this is to deny all human knowledge, and to assert universal scepticism, and then the lawyer could not assert his objection, and would be obliged to doubt even that he doubts.  If the intellect is universally fallible, we may as well close the discussion at once, for nothing can be settled.  If it, in its own province, where it really does know, is infallible, then the only question is, whether, in passing judgment on the facts that establish the infallibility of the church, the intellect is obliged to go out of its own province, and judge of matters in regard to which it is confessedly incompetent and fallible? – a question we shall consider in its place.  

2. We join issue with the lawyer on his assertion that the authority is intrinsic in the mind itself, not extrinsic, either in the object or the authority that affirms it.  He says in his not that “no authority whatever can reside in the state, the church, or any mere institution or being outside of the person, whether that church or institution assume divinity or not.  The authority is not in the so-called fact, but in the person to whom the so-called fact is addressed, and who is called upon to pass upon it.  The Baconian system is false, because it makes the so-called fact the authority for itself; when plainly the very existence or comprehension of it depends wholly on the person to whom it is addressed.”  So we do not know facts because they exist, but they exist because we know them or judge them to exist!  But how can so-called facts be addressed to the person before they exist?  The lawyer goes further than his argument against the church requires, and consequently proves, if any thing, too much, and therefore nothing.  He makes not only all knowledge, but, unintentionally, we presume, all existences, depend on their being known, and therefore makes them purely subjective, and falls into Fichteism or pure egoism.

                The lawyer’s rule excludes not only faith, but knowledge of every sort and degree; for all knowledge is assent, and in the simplest fact of knowledge the intellectual assent is given on authority or evidence extrinsic to the person, though intrinsic in the object.  Knowledge is either intuitive or discursive.  In Intuitive knowledge, the evidence or motive of the intellectual assent is intrinsic in the object, but extrinsic to the assenting mind.  The immediate presence of the object motives or authorizes the assent, and the mind has simply the power or faculty of apprehending the object, or judging that it is, when presented; for, without the object affirming its presence to the mind, there can be no fact of knowledge or intellectual assent.  In discursive knowledge the authority or evidence, as in intuitive knowledge, is intrinsic in the object, but it is implicit, and can be placed in immediate relation with the intellectual faculty only by discursion – a process of reasoning or demonstration.  But demonstration does not motive the assent; it only removes the prohibentia, or renders explicit what is implicit, for nothing can be asserted in the conclusion not already implicitly asserted in the premises; yet the assent is by virtue of the evidence or authority intrinsic in the object, as in intuition.  All this means that we know objects because they are and are placed in relation with our cognitive faculty, not that they are because we know them, or because the mind places them, or makes them its object.  If the lawyer’s rule, that authority is not in the object but in the mind or person, were true, there could be no fact of knowledge, either intuitive or discursive, because the mind cannot know where there is nothing to be known. 

                Faith or belief agrees with knowledge in the respect that it is intellectual assent, but differs from it in that it is mediate assent, by an authority extrinsic, as authority or evidence, both to the object and to the person.  The authority or evidence mediates between the mind and the fact or object, and brings them together in a manner somewhat analogous to that in which the middle term in the syllogism brings together the two extremes and unites them in the conclusion.  If the evidence or the authority is adequate, the belief is reasonable and as certain as any conclusion of logic, or as the immediate assent of the mind in the fact of science or knowledge.  We are as certain that there is such a city as Rome, though we have never seen it, that there was such a man as Julius Caesar, George Washington, or Napoleon Bonaparte, as we are that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles.  It is on this principle the lawyer acts and must act in every case he has in court.  He summons and examines witnesses, and relies on their testimony or evidence to obtain a conviction or an acquittal, except in a question of law; and then he relies on the judge or the court.  If there is no authority outside the person, that is, no authority not in his own mind, why does he summon and examine and cross-examine witnesses or consult the judge?  Why does he not work the facts and the law out of his own “inner consciousness,” as do most modern historians the facts they give us for history?  As a lawyer, our friend would soon find his principle, if he carried it into court, operating as an effectual estoppel to the practice of his profession.

                The lawyer asks, “When the missionary carries the church to the heathen, does he not present it for their rational acceptance?  And if so, does he not ask their finite judgment to pass upon and accept the infinite and absolute?”  We are sure our friend would  argue better than this if he had a case in court on which any thing of importance depended.  When presented by his brother lawyer opposite with the decision of the court of appeals barring his case, would he attempt to judge or pass upon the judgment of the court before accepting it, or would he not be content with simply verifying the fact that the decision has been rendered by the court of appeals or court of last resort?  We feel quite sure that, if he were on the defensive, and adduced the decision of the court of last resort barring the action, he would be very far from allowing his brother opposite to question the judgment.  Nor would he as a lawyer dream of rejecting the decision because his own mind had not passed upon its merits; but, when once assured that the court had rendered it, he would accept it and submit to it as law, not on his own judgment, but on the authority of the court itself.  All he would allow himself to do would be to verify the powers of the court, in order to ascertain if it is a court of competent jurisdicition, and to be sure that it had rendered the decision.  The decision itself he would not, as a lawyer, think of examining any further than to ascertain its meaning.  He would take it as final, and submit to it as law, whether for him or against him.

                The objection fails to distinguish what, in the case supposed, the heathen are required to pass upon in order to act rationally in accepting the church.  They would be required to pass upon the sufficiency of the evidence of her divine institution and commission to teach and govern all men and nations in all things pertaining to the kingdom of God on earth.  That evidence, called by theologians, “motives of credibility,” found complete, all the rest follows as a logical consequence, and there is no calling upon “the finite to pass upon the infinite and the absolute,” any more than there is upon the counsellor to pass upon the merits of the judgment of the court of final resort after being certified that the court had actually rendered it.  All that one has to believe of the infinite and absolute, after he has established by evidence appropriate in the case the divine institution and commission of the church, he believes on the authroity of the church herself.

                The missionary, no doubt, presents the church to their rational acceptance, and must, therefore, present to them the motives of credibility, and these motives, these facts, must be addressed to their understanding, and be such as their reason can pass upon and accept or reject.  But the question is, Supposing reason has passed upon these facts or the motives, and found them sufficient to accredit the church, as a teacher come from God, and commissioned or authorized by him to teach his word, is not the acceptance of that word on her authroity as the word of God a “rational acceptance,” and all the most rigid reason does or can demand?

                The lawyer says no; and because all authority is in the person, and resides nowhere outside of him, and therefore it is necessary that reason should pass upon the contents of the word, that is, upon the doctrines and mysteries contained in the word the church professes to teach, which is impossible; for it requires the finite to pass upon the infinite and absolute, which exceeds its powers; therefore, faith is impossible.  But this implies that no belief is admissible that is not science, and faith must be swallowed up in knowledge, and thus cease to be faith, before the human mind can rationally accept it. 

                The trouble with the lawyer’s objection is that it assumes that faith is irrational, unless it is science or knowledge.  His statement goes even further than this.  He not only denies that there can be any rational belief on extrinsic authority, but that there is or can be any such authority, or that any state, church, or being has or can have any authroity outside of us, or not derived from us.  We do not believe he means this, for he is not divested of the reason common to all men.  He means, we presume, simply that no state, no church, not even God himself, has any authority on which we can rationally believe any thing which transcends the reach of our reason, or which is not intrinsically evident to our reason by its own light.  But what is evident to us by the light of our own reason, we know, and not simply believe.  As belief is always on extrinsic authority simply accredited to reason, this goes so far as to deny that any belief is or can be rational, and that any authority or any amount of testimony is sufficient to warrant it, which, as we have seen, is much further than the lawyer can go in the practice of his profession, or any man in the ordinary business of life.

                We do not think our legal friend has duly considered the reach of the principle he lays down.  Even in the so-called positive sciences, the greater part of the matters accepted by the scientist are accepted on extrinsic authority, not on personal knowledge.  No geologist has personally observed all or even the greater part of the facts he uses in the construction of his science; no geographer, however great a traveller he may have been, has visited and personally examined all parts of the globe which he describes; the botanist describes and classifies more plants, the zoologist more forms of life, than he has personally seen, and the historian deals almost entirely with facts of which he has no personal knowledge.  Eliminate from the sciences what the scientist has not observed for himself, but taken on the reported observation of others, and from the garniture of every mind what it believes or takes on extrinsic authority, not on its personal knowledge, and there would be very little left to distinguish the most learned and highly educated man from the untutored savage.  In all the affairs of life, we are obliged to rely on extrinsic authority, on evidence neither in the subject nor in the object, on the observations and testimony of others, and sometimes on the observations and accumulated testimony of ages, especially in wise and prudent statesmanship; and if we were suddenly deprived of this authority, evidence, or testimony, and reduced to our own personal knowledge, intuitive or discursive; society would come to a standstill, and would soon fall below the level of the New Hollander, for even he inherits some lessons from the past, and associates with his observations some observations of others.

                We presume our friend the lawyer means nothing of all this, and his mistake arises from not sharply distinguishing between the motives of credibility and the authority, on the one hand, and the authority and what it authorizes, on the other.  The existence of God is a fact of science, though discursive, not intuitive, science.  That God is, as the theologians say, prima veritas in essendo, in cognoscendo, et in dicendo, is also a truth of science – is a truth we not simply believe, but know or may know, for it can be proved with certainty by natural reason prior to faith.  God is truth; it is impossible for him to lie, since he is prima veritas in dicendo, the primal truth in speaking, and can neither deceive nor be deceived, for he is prima veritas in cognoscendo, or principle of all truth in knowing.

                This granted, the word of God must be true, infallibly true.  So far we can go by science or certain knowledge.  Now, suppose the lawyer to have full proof that it really is God’s word that is announced to him, would he not be bound to believe it true, nay, could he in the exercise of his reason help believing it true, prior to and independent of any consideration of its contents, or what is it that God says?  God can neither deceive nor be deceived, therefore his word must be true, and cannot possibly be false.  God’s word is the highest and most conclusive evidence conceivable of what is the truth of what is asserted in his word, and, if the truth, then reasonable, for nothing is more reasonable than truth or unreasonable than falsehood.  It would, therefore, be as unnecessary as irreverent and impertinent to examine God’s word to see if what he asserts is reasonable before yielding it our assent.  We know beforehand that it is true, or else God could not affirm it, and that whatever conflicts with it is false and unreasonable; and the lawyer himself will admit, we presume, that the highest possible reason for believing is God’s word, in case we have it.  Let us consider so much settled.

                The next step is the proof of certainty that what is alleged to be the word of God really is his word.  His word is his revelation.  Suppose, then, that he made his revelation, and deposited it with his apostles whom he commanded to go forth and teach it to all men and nations.  The apostles would, on this supposition, be competent and credible witnesses to the fact that God made and deposited his revelation with them.  Suppose, further, that the apostles transmitted it to their successors, or, rather, that the church is the identical apostolic body, continued without any interruption or break down to our time, the church would then be a competent and credible witness to the fact of revelation and to what is revealed.  Being the eye-witness of the facts which proved our Lord a teacher come from God and authorized to speak in his name, and the depositary of the revelation, her testimony is conclusive.  She saw with her own eyes the facts, she knows what has been deposited with her, and the commission she received, and therefore her testimony or evidence cannot be gainsaid.  She is the living and contemporary witness, and every way credible, as we have shown in the article The Church accredits Herself.

                The infallibility follows necessarily from her commission from God to teach all men and nations.  This commission from God commands all men and nations in his name to believe and obey what she teaches as his word.  If she could err in teaching, then all men and nations might be required by God himself to believe error or falsehood, which is impossible, since God is truth, and can neither deceive nor be deceived.  The divine commission to the church or apostolic body to teach carries with it the divine pledge of infallibility.

                Now, supposing the church to be what she claims to be, reason itself requires us to accept and obey as the word of God whatever she teaches as his word, since his word is true, and the highest possible evidence of truth.  Nothing is or can be more reasonable than to believe the word of God, or to believe God on his word.  Equally reasonable with it is to believe that what the apostolic church declares to be his word, really is so, if she is instituted and commissioned by God to keep, guard, teach, interpret, declare, and define it.  The only point, then, to be proved is the divine institution and commission, both of which, if the apostolic body, she is herself the authority for asserting, as the supreme court is the authority for asserting its own legal constitution, power, and jurisdiction.  This leaves, then, only a single point to be proved, namely, the historical identity of the body calling itself the Catholic Church with the apostolic body with whom the revelation was deposited.

                We need not now go into the historical proofs of the identity of the Catholic Church with the apostolic body, for that is easily done, and has been done over and over again; besides, it lies on the very face of history, and Pius IX, the pontiff now gloriously reigning, is as easily as certainly proved to be the successor of Peter as Ulysses S. Grant is proved to be the successor in the presidency of the United States of George Washington, the schism of Jefferson Davis to the contrary notwithstanding.  Moreover, if the lawyer doubts, as we presume he does not, the identity, we hold ourselves ready to adduce the proofs whenever he calls for them.  Assuming, then, the case to be stated, we demand what, in the whole process of acceptance of the faith the missionary proposes to the heathen, is irrational, or not satisfactory, to the fullest demands of reason?  In fact, the points to be proved are exceedingly few, and those not above the reach of private judgment, or difficult.  The authority of our Lord as a teacher come from God was proved by miracles.  These miracles the church witnessed and testifies to as facts, and so far her testimony is unimpeachable.  Their supernatural and miraculous character we can ourselves judge of.  Whether they prove the divine authority of Jesus or not, is also a matter of which we are competent to judge.  His divine authority proved, his divinity, and all the mysteries of his person can be rationally accepted on his word, and what his word was, the church who received it is competent to declare.  There really, then, is nothing to be proved which the church herself does not either prove or supply the means of proving in order to render belief in what she claims to be, and in what she teaches, as rational or reasonable as belief in any well-ascertained fact in natural science.  The motives of credibility which she brings with her and presents to the understanding of all men who hear her accredit her as the divinely appointed depositary and teacher of the revelation God has made to all men, and all the rest follows of itself, as in the syllogism the conclusion follows from the premises.

                The lawyer does not admit it, and rejects the whole, because he rejects all belief on extrinsic authority.  But is not this because he mistakes the meaning of the word authority as used by theologians and philosophers?  We have generally found that the men who object to belief on authority understand by authority an order or command addressed to the will, without including any thing to convince the reason or to motive the assent of the understanding.  This is not precisely the theological sense of the term.  The theologians understand by authority in matters of faith authority for believing as well as an order to believe.  It is the reason which authorizes the belief, and is therefore primarily authority for the intellect, and furnishes it an ample reason to believe.

                Authority addressed simply to the will ordering it to believe, and giving the intellect no reason for believing, can produce no rational belief, and induce no belief at all, and this we presume is what, and all, our legal friend means.  Taking authority in his sense, we entirely agree with him, except a command from God is always a reason for the intellect as well as an order to the will, since God is prima veritas, and can command only what is true, reasonable, just, and right.  His command is his word, and an order from him to the will is ipso facto a reason for the understanding, since no higher evidence of truth than his word is possible.  With this reserve, the lawyer is right in his objection to belief on authority, as he understands it, for there is no belief where there is no intellectual conviction.  But he is mistaken in supposing that theologians mean only authority in his sense, authority commanding the will, and giving no reason to the understanding: they mean primarily by authority in matters of faith or reason authority for believing, and commanding it only through conviction to believe, which it must do if convinced.

                The authority, then, which we assert, is the reason for believing; it is the medius terminus that unites the credible object and the creditive subject, and renders the belief possible and an intellectual act, and so far assimilates it to knowledge.  Belief without authority is belief without any ground or reason for believing, and is irrational, unfounded, mere credulity, as when one believes a rumor for which there is no authority.  When the authority is worthy of credit, the belief is warranted, and when it is infallible, the belief is infallible.  In believing what the church teaches us is the word of God, we have infallible authority for our belief, and cannot be deceived, be mistaken, or err.  This is all so plain, and so fully in accord with the demands of reason, that we are forced to explain the repugnance so many people manifest to believing on authority, by supposing that they understand by authority simply an order of a master to believe, without accompanying it with any thing to convince the understanding, thus making the act of faith an act not of faith at all, but of mere blind obedience.  This is all wrong.  Faith as an intellectual act cannot be blind any more than is the act of knowledge, and must have a reason that convinces the understanding.  Hence, the church does not censure unbelief in those who know not the authority or reason there is for unbelief, and, if at all, it is only for their neglect to avail themselves with due diligence of the means of arriving at belief within their reach.

                The authority or command of God is indeed the highest reason the mind can have for believing any thing, and it is therefore that unbelief in those who have his command or authority becomes sinful, because it implies a contempt of God, a contempt of truth, and practically says to him who made us, from whom we hold all that we have, and who is truth itself, “We will not take your word; we do not care what you say; we are the masters of our own thoughts, and will think and believe as we please.”  This is not only irreverent and disobedient, indicating a wholly indefensible pride, and self-will, but denies the very principle asserted by unbelievers in justification of their refusal to believe at the order or command of authority, namely, that it is not in one’s power to believe or disbelieve at will, nor as one wills.

                These explanations suffice, we think, to show that private judgment or individual reason is not required by the Catholic to judge “the infinite and absolute,” or to pass upon any matter that lies out of the province of natural reason, and exceeds its competence or finite capacity.  It is required to pass upon only the motives of credibility, or the facts that prove the church is a divine institution, commissioned to teach all men and nations through all time the divine revelation which she has received, and of these we are able by our own light to judge.  The authority to teach established, all the rest follows logically and necessarily, as we have just said, as in the syllogism the conclusion follows from the premises.  The authority being addressed to the intellect as well as to the will, and a sufficient reason for believing as well as obeying, the lawyer’s principal objection is disposed of, and the acceptance of the faith is shown to be a rational acceptance.

                But, conceding the infallibility of the church, since her teaching must be received by a fallible understanding, why is belief on the authority of the church less fallible than belief on the authority of an infallible book, interpreted by the same fallible understanding?  You say to Protestants: The Bible may be infallible, but your understanding of it is fallible, and therefore even with it you have no infallible rule of faith.  Why may not the Protestant retort: Be it that the church is infallible, you have only your fallible private judgment by which to interpret her teachings, and, therefore, with your infallible church have only a fallible faith?

                More words are ususally required to answer an objection than are required to state it.  We do not assert or concede the fallibility of reason, intellect, or private judgment in matters which come within its own province or competence.  Revelation presupposes reason, and therefore that man is capable of receiving it; consequently of certainly knowing and correctly understanding it, within the limits of his finite reason.  We do not build faith on scepticism, or the incapacity of reason to know any thing with certainty.  Reason is the preamble to faith, and is competent to receive and understand truly, infallibly, if you will, clear and distinct propositions in their plain and obvious sense when presented to it in words spoken or in words written.  If it were not so, all writing and all teaching, all books and all sermons, would be useless.  So far the Protestant rule and the Catholic are the same, with the difference only, that, if we happen to mistake the sense of the church, she is ever present to correct the error and to set us right, while the Protestant rule can give no further explanation, nor add a word to correct the misapprehension.  The teachings of the church need to be understood, but not ordinarily to be interpreted; and, even when they do have to be interpreted, she is present to interpret them, and declare infallibly the sense in which they are to be understood.  But the Bible, from beginning to end, must be interpreted before it can be understood, and, while private judgment or reason may be competent to understand it when it is interpreted or explained, it is yet only a fallible interpreter, and incompetent to explain to the understanding its real sense.

                The church interprets and explains herself; there are books, also, that carry their own explanation with them, and so need no further interpretation or further explanation; but manifestly the Bible is not such a book.  It is inspired; it is true; it is infallible; and is, as St. Paul says of all Scripture, divinely inspired, “profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good word and work” (2 Tim. 3. 16,17); but it bears on its face the evidence that it was addressed to men who were already believers, and already instructed, partially at least, in the truths it teachs or enforces, and that it was not written to teach the faith to such as had no knowledge of it, but to correct errors, to present more fully the faith on certain points, to point out the duties it enjoins, to exhort to repentance and reform, and to hold up as motives, on the one hand, the fearful judgment of God upon those who disregard his goodness, or despise his mercy, or abuse his long-suffering, and, on the other, the exceeding riches of divine love, and the great reward prepared in heaven for those that believe, love, and obey him.  No one can read it without perceiving that it neither is nor professes to be the original medium of the Christian revelation to man, but from first to last supposes a revelation previously made, the true religion to have been already taught, and instructions in it already received.  This is true of the Old Testament, and more especially true of the New Testament; and we know historically, and nobody denies it, that the faith was preached and believed, and particular churches, congregations of believers, were gathered and organized, before a word of the New Testament was written.

                The Protestant, reduced to the sacred text, even supposing he has the genuine and authentic text, and his private judgment, would be reduced to the condition of the lawyer who should undertake to explain the statutes of any one of our states, in total ignorance of the Common Law, or without the least reference to it or the decisions of the common law courts.  Now and then a statute, perhaps, would explain itself, but in most cases he would be wholly at a loss as to the real meaning of the legislature.  Our wise law-reformers in this state, a few years since, seeing and feeling the fact, attempted to codify the laws so as to supercede the demand for any knowledge of the Common Law to understand them, and the ablest jurists in the state find them a puzzle, or nearly inexplicable, and are best lawyers are uncertain how to bring an action under the new Code of Procedure.  The Protestant needs, in order to interpret the sacred text, a knowledge of revelation which can neither be obtained from the text itself without interpretation nor supplied by private judgment.  Hence it is that we find Protestants unable to agree among themselves as to what is or is not the meaning of the sacred text, and varying in their views all the way down from the highest Puseyite who accepts all Catholic doctrine, “the damnatory clauses excepted,” to the lowest Unitarian, who holds that our Lord was simply a man, the son of Joseph and Mary, and rejects the church, the mysteries of the Trinity and Incarnation, original sin, redemption, the expiatory sacrifice, regeneration, supernatural grace, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, the everlasting punishment of the incorrigible in hell, and the reward of the just in any heaven above the Elysian Fields of the Greeks and Romans or the happy hunting-grounds of the poor Indian.  Protestants are able to agree among themselves only so far as they follow Catholic tradition and agree with the church.  The Protestant needs to know the Christian faith in order to interpret the sacred text and ascertain it from the Bible, and this he cannot know from his own private judgment or develop from his own “inner consciousness,” since it lies in the supernatural order, and is above the reach of his natural faculties.  It is clear, then, that in the Bible interpreted by private judgment he has and can have only a fallible authority. 

                It is not because the Holy Scriptures do not contain, explicitly or implicitly, the whole faith, that, interpreted by private judgment, they give only a fallible rule of faith, but because, to find the faith in its unity and integrity in them, we must know it aliunde and beforehand.  This difficulty is completely obviated by the Catholic rule.  The church has in Catholic tradition, which she preserves intact by time or change, the whole revelation, whether written or unwritten, and in this tradition she has the key to the real sense of the sacred Scriptures, and is able to interpret them infallibly.  Tradition, authenticated by the church as the witness and depositary of it, supplies the knowledge necessary to the understanding of the sacred text.  Read in the light of tradition, what is implicit in the text becomes explicit, what is merely referred to as wholly known becomes expressly and cleraly stated, and we are able to understand the written word, because tradition interprets it for us, without any demand for a knowledge or judgment on our part that exceeds our natural powers.  Our judgment is no longer private judgment, because we have in tradition a catholic rule by which to judge, and our judgment has not to pass on any thing above the province of reason.

                The objection we make to the Protestant rule, it must be obvious now to our friend, cannot be retorted.  The Protestant must interpret the sacred Scriptures by his private judgment, which he cannot do without passing upon questions which transcend its reach.  The Catholic exercises, of course, his judgment in accepting the infallible teachings of the church, but he is not required to pass upon any question above the reach of his understanding, or upon which, by his natural reason, he cannot judge infallibly, or with the certainty of actual and complete knowledge.  He is not required to pass upon the truth of what the church teaches, for that follows from her divine institution and commission to teach the revelation God has made previously established.  He has simply to pass upon the question, What is it she teaches, or presents clearly and distinctly to his understanding to be believed?  And, in passing upon that question, his judgment has not to judge of any thing beyond or above reason, and, therefore, is not fallible any more than in any other act of knowledge.

                There is another advantage the Catholic rule has over the Protestant rule.  In this world of perpetual change, and with the restless and ever-busy activity of the human mind, new questions are constantly coming up and in need of being answered, and so answered as to save the unity and integrity of the faith.  The Bible having once spoken is henceforth silent; it can say nothing more, and make no further explanations of the faith to meet these new questions, and tell us explictly what the word requires or forbids us to believe with regard to them.  Hence, Protestants never know how to meet them.  Then new or further explanations and decisions are constantly needed, and will be needed to the end of time.  Even the explanations and decisions of the church, amply sufficient when made, not seldom, through the sublety and activity of error, and its unceasing efforts to evade or obscure the truth, become insufficient, and need themselves to be further explained, and applied so as to strike in the head the new forms of old error and deprive them of their last subterfuge.  These explanations and decisions so necessary, and which can be infallibly made only by a living and ever-present infallible authority, can be only fallibly made, if at all, on the Protestant rule.  Even the creed of the church, though unalterable, needs from time to time not development, but new and further explanations, to meet and condemn the new forms of error that spring up, and to preserve the faith unimpaired and inviolate.  How is this to be done infallibly by a book written two thousand years ago and private judgment, or without the divine and infallible authority of the church?   

                These remarks and explanations, we think, fully answer the objections of our legal friend to the belief on authority, and prove that no attempted retort of the Protestant on the Catholic can be sustained, or entertained even, for a moment.  We have thus vindicated for him the Catholic rule, and proved that faith on that rule is possible, practicable, and rational, is reasonable obedience, and by no means a blind submission, as he probably supposes.  What more can he ask of us?  He cannot repeat his charge and say we have not met the question, for we have met it, at least so far as we understand it, and under more forms than he probably dreamed of in urging it.  The question is one that meets the inquirer at the threshold, and he can hardly suppose that we could have accepted the church ourselves without meeting it, considering it at length, and disposing of it. 

                Yet there is one thing more wanting.  The method of proof we have pointed out, however sure and however faithfully followed, does not suffice to make one a Catholic, or to give one true Catholic and divine faith, or faith as a theological virtue; it only removes the obstacles in the way of the intellect in believing, and yields only what theologians call human faith – fides humana – which really advances one not a single step towards the kingdom of God, or living union with Christ.  A man may be thoroughly convinced, as far as reason goes, of the whole Catholic faith, and yet, perhaps, never become a Catholic.  To be a Catholic, one must have supernatural faith, and be elevated by the grace of God in baptism to the supernatural order of life in Christ.  Reason can construct no bridge over which one can be constructed by grace.  Faith, the beginning of the Christian life, is the gift of God.  The method we have pointed out or the Catholic rule produces the conviction of the truth of the church and what she teaches, and shows it to be one’s duty to seek, if he has it not, the grace that inclines the will, illumines the understanding, and regenerates the soul. 

                The way in which to seek and find this grace is pointed out by our Lord (Matt 7. 7) : “Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.”  The way is the way of prayer.  The grace of prayer, gratia orationis, is given to all men.  All men can pray.  He who prays for it shall receive the grace to seek, and he who shall find, and receive the grace to seek, and he who seeks shall find, and receive the grace to knock at the door of the church, which will be opened to him, and he have the grace to enter into the regeneration, and live the life of Christ.  We have no hope for the conversion of any one who does not pray; and we have more confidence in the humble prayers of simple, sincere, and fervent Catholic souls for the conversion of those without than in all the reasonings in the world, however conclusive they may be.  When once grace has touched the heart, all clouds vanish of themselves, all darkness is dissipated, all obstacles disappear, we know not how, and to believe is the easiest and simplest thing in the world.  To believe is difficult only when one persists in relying on one’s own strength and will accept no aid from above.  Let those, then, who have faith pray unceasingly for those who have it not.