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Liberalism and Catholicity

Taken from Brownson’s Quarterly Review

The following letter comes to us from a very estimable young Protestant minister of our acquaintance, and for whom we have personally a very high regard. It was occasioned by a conversation we recently had with him, in which he labored to impress upon us his mind that he was bound in prudence and in morals to give the great question of Catholicity, at least, a fair, candid, and thorough investigation. We do not know whether he expected us to publish his letter or not; but it deserves a reply, and a more elaborate reply than we are just now able to give it, unless we may at the same time make it answer the purpose of an article in our Review. Moreover, the "obstacles" of which he speaks may be in the way of others as well as of himself; and therefore, in replying publicly, we may be doing a service not only to him, but also to a whole class, and perhaps a numerous class. We suppress his name and residence, that we may not have even the appearance of betraying any confidence, expressed or implied, which he may have reposed in us.


[Jamaica Plain,] April 9, 1846.


Dear Sir:

"I have considered your arguments, saving this month’s number, which I have not yet read. But there are certain obstacles which prevent the reasonings from having much weight, and seem to me to make the case logically hopeless.

"I. I do not object to your position, that ‘faith is impossible out of the Catholic Church;’ for the only ‘Catholic Church’ I can acknowledge at present comprises ‘those who share the faith and salvation of Christ,’ so that this becomes an identical proposition. The epithet ‘Roman’ to me neutralizes that of ‘Catholic.’

II. Again, if faith means anything else than trust, or apprehension of things spiritual, whichever definition I choose to take, (as distinct from intellectual belief of given propositions), or if salvation means anything else than progressive enlightenment, freedom, and spiritualizing of the soul (as distinct from the deliverance from impending torture in the flames of hell), you must be aware that such other interpretations of these words require some authorized interpreter to sustain them. You cannot suppose I am ready to accept such interpretation without proof; and you would hardly be guilty of such a paralogism, as to make use, in argument, of a proposition sustained by an authority which it is the very purpose of your argument to lead me to accept. And if you quote Scripture (as Mark 16:16 and Hebrews 11:6), you must be aware, that, even granting absolute authority to every word of Scripture (which is the utmost limit of intellectual faith a non-Romanist can have), I am at perfect liberty, by my own principles, to give any such explanation to any of the words as is in accordance with my general belief and prevailing habits of thought. As a matter of logic, then, whatever else your arguments may be, they cannot have any force to draw me towards accepting your position. As I said before, logical Romanism and logical liberalism are each complete and consistent in itself, and there is no passage-way of reasoning between them. As for illogical Protestantism, you may seize on its inconsistencies, and force it logically to one or the other of these two positions; but when it has reached either of them, it takes something besides argument to bring it over to the other.

"III. There is another difficulty in the way of your argument, which you have not met to my own satisfaction. To accept the claims of the Roman Church either involves an ‘act of faith,’ or it does not. If it does, this is the same as saying that an act of faith (granting your own understanding and usage of the phrase) is required, preliminary to any possible, or even supposable, act of faith; which is absurd. If, on the other hand, such acceptance does not involve an act of faith, then the investigation of the claims of that church becomes a purely intellectual process, requiring only the clearness of mind and moral honesty which any other intellectual process requires. And on my ground (I do not say on yours), it is utterly wicked and absurd to denounce any penalty beforehand upon any result deliberately and candidly arrived at. Such denunciation would be a defiance of the first and simplest axiom of all reasoning together between man and man; namely, that no threats must be introduced, or any extraneous element whatever, to influence the determination either way.

"I do not say that no Protestant can ever become a Romanist. This would be to contradict well known facts. But I do say that no purely logical process can suffice for such a result; and this impossibility your own arguments have abundantly shown. Of course, until your proposition of the authority of the Roman Church is accepted, your deduced assertions or corollaries (such as the impossibility of faith without it, the superiority of its culture, and the peculiar blessedness of its belief or ritual) must go for nothing at all. You must be logician enough to see this, and its bearing on the minds of your Protestant readers. And I do not see how you can avoid perceiving the authority and necessity of the Roman Church are assumed in every single step, and consequently your arguments can have no logical weight with one who does not accept them.

"I do not blame you for thus assuming and continually bringing forward what has become the principle and groundwork of your faith. It would be inconsistent with my own principles not to welcome, or at least respect, every evidence of faith and sincerity, coming from any quarter of that Holy Catholic Church of spiritual communion, which includes every pure thought, and righteous desire, and holy life of every age. It would be painful to meet one who differs from me, even in grave matters, as perforce an antagonist. The Roman hierarchy, not the faith of the Romanists, is what, with my understanding, I am steadily opposed to; and far be it from me to reproach anyone for his adherence to that which gives him life and strength. But I do wonder a little that you should use the arguments and appeals you do, supposing they can have effect on those you mean to influence; or else that by a false show of logic you should seek unfairly to bewilder, and perhaps convert, those who are not prepared to understand or appreciate the real points of difference. You could not much value such conversion as that.

"you rightly speak of this as (on your ground) the gravest question that a man can propose to himself. You cannot consent that it should be answered in a bewildered, sophisticated, and hurried state of mind. And the real answer to it, as you must know, is through the history of the church and the world. A profound historical investigation, a thorough appreciation of the grounds of historical evidence, a familiarity with the lessons and events of past ages, and especially a clear and systematic understanding of the religious and intellectual culture, as well as political and social institutions, of the human race, are the essential preliminaries to the intelligent and independent determination of that question. My argument (III.) must convince you that this is the only way to answer it; at least, the only way in which I should be willing to answer it. And for those who have not ability or leisure for such an inquiry, we need not imagine their case must be hopeless. As I believe the Roman Church itself acknowledges unavoidable ignorance will be pardoned; and the true condition of salvation is, that each should act up to the measure of faith or of light he has.

"There are two methods of argument by which one may be led from his own to another form of belief. The one is purely logical, proceeding from certain common principles, known and acknowledged on both sides. I think I have abundantly shown that this method can have no weight with a consistent and intelligent Protestant. The other is historical; based on a critical investigation of past facts and institutions, and involving an amount and kind of labor and learning, which must, form the nature of the case, be attainable by very few. As to the latter, which I maintain to be the only legitimate method of establishing your position, you must be aware how very incompetent I am at present to carry it to a certain conclusion. In the meantime, it is only laying claim to that amount of honesty which every opponent of common sense must allow (or else all his arguments are but bullying and sophistry), to say, that whatever shall seem to me established I shall acknowledge and profess, whether Romanism or ‘No-Church.’ And from the axiom (which every religious enquiry demands), that a just and merciful God presides over the issues of human life, I cannot possibly feel any harm or distrust in pursuing such an investigation with perfect independence of mind, or feel the smallest hesitation or scruple in acting consistently with my present convictions, until a course of reasoning like that I have indicated shall compel me to abandon them.

"Till then I am yours in respect, though in dissent,

["J.H. Allen."]


The first remark we make on this letter is, that it fully concedes, what we have so often asserted, and what is becoming a very general conviction, that there is no middle ground between liberalism – no-churchism as we call it – and Catholicity. This is much, and augurs well. It proves that the writer has good stuff in him, that he is no via media man, trying to steer his course equidistant between truth and falsehood,- no time-server, no trimmer, no logical coward, shrinking from the avowal of the legitimate and necessary consequences of his own premises. It is true, he at present inclines strongly to the side of liberalism, but this does not discourage us. He will hardly need to try liberalism as long and as thoroughly as we have tried it, before he rejects it, and gladly embraces Catholicity. If he retains any consciousness of a single religious want, if he ever feels himself, as all not utterly reprobate do and must feel themselves, oppressed with a load of guilt, and beset on every hand with numerous, powerful, and vigilant enemies to his virtue; or if, in some trying moment of his life, he is forced to send an anxious glance into the darkness which for him must brood over the tomb, and which no ray from natural reason can furrow, even for a single instant, he will never be able to content himself with mere liberalism, but must demand, whether he find it or not, something less vague and negative, something more positive, more illuminative, more effective to heal, to elevate, to protect, and to sanctify the soul.

In replying to the objections urged in the letter before us, we shall not follow precisely the order adopted by the writer, but an order which better suits our own convenience, and which will better enable our readers to perceive the bearing, connection, and force of what we have to offer. Whatever the writer of the letter intended, his objections are, strictly speaking, not so much objections to the church, as to our method of setting forth and defending her claims; but we shall consider them both as they affect our own reasoning and as they affect the question of the church herself. The principal objections urged are resolvable into the two following, namely: 1. The authority of the church is, in its nature, unprovable. 2. An act of faith in the Catholic sense is impossible. These are regarded as objections a priori to Catholicity, and requiring to be removed before any argument or testimony in her favor can be introduced.

The authority of the church is, in its nature, unprovable. This, the writer contends, is evident from our own arguments; all the arguments we have used or can use in support of the church involve a paralogism; for they all proceed from premises which it requires the authority of the church to furnish or legitimate. We begin with what concerns the arguments we have ourselves used. The writer alleges in effect against them: You conclude the church, without which faith is not possible, from the necessity of faith to salvation. But the church is as necessary to prove to me that faith is necessary to salvation, or that there are or can be such things as faith and salvation in the sense you contend, as it is to enable me to elicit an act of faith. We reply, -


1. That our argument involves a paralogism, when adduced in defense of the church against those who do not admit salvation and faith as its indispensable condition in the sense we allege, may be true; when adduced as an argumentum ad hominum against those who admit both, we deny. But it was only as an argumentum ad hominum we adduced the special argument objected to. We were reasoning against those Protestant Christians who admit our premises; and our design was to show them, that, on their own principles, they are bound either to accept the Catholic Church, or to deny the possibility of salvation.

2. Though in one part of our argument we argue as the objection alleges, yet in the main argument itself we do not. By recurring to the article titled The Church against No-Church, the only article we have published in which we give a general argument for the church, it will be seen that our point of departure is further back, and that we proceed to argue to the church from the necessity of faith to salvation not till after we have established both faith and salvation in the very sense in which we take them in the argument. That we began by assuming "the divine origin and authority of the Christian religion" we grant, because we were defending the church against one who claimed to be a Christian, and a Christian minister; and we judged it, as we stated expressly, to be discourteous to reason with him as we would with a Jew, pagan, Mahometan, or infidel. We presumed we had a right to take him at his word, and that it would be superfluous to go further back in our argument than to the simple assumption of the Christian religion as a divine and authoritative religion. Assuming the divine origin and authority of the Christian religion, we proceeded to establish, by authorities that could not be objected to without rejecting Christianity altogether, that all who receive it at all are logically bound to receive the Catholic Church, or admit that Christian salvation, whatever it may mean, is impossible. This argument is legitimate, not only against those who admit salvation, and faith as its indispensable condition, but also against all who admit the Christian religion at all as a divine and authoritative religion.

3. If only a part of our general argument be taken, it involves a paralogism when urged against those Protestant Christians who reject Christianity altogether, we concede; that it does when taken as a whole, we deny. The writer objects to the argument because he takes only that part of it which had a special purpose, and overlooks it as a whole. In the article referred to, pp. 374-379, when turning to the positive proofs of the church, or the divine commission of the ecclesia docens, we go back to Christianity itself, and point out and defend the method by which the divine authority of the church may be established against those who reject all revelation, on the ground of our correspondent, that the supernatural is not provable. We then show that the authority of the church is provable without any argumentum ad hominum, or the assumption of any premise which reason is not competent to furnish or legitimate. It must be shown what we have there said is not to the purpose, is unsound in principle, or unsustained by facts, before we can be rightfully accused of attempting to prove the church by a paralogism.

4. Moreover, we publish, reviewer as we are, our arguments in detached essays, and nowhere profess in any one essay to give a complete view of the argument for

the church, or of all we may have to adduce in her defense. It is necessary to take what is urged in one essay, though not in another, so far as pertinent, as an integral part of our general argument. The essay our correspondent has noticed is simply a reply to some special objections raised by the Episcopal Observer to a part of the reasoning in our previous article in The Church against No-Church, the main purpose of which was not to prove the church against all classes of objectors, but against a special class, as its title indicates; though, in prosecuting the argument, we took occasion incidentally to indicate the method of defending the church against several classes. But in the same number we inserted, from the French of the celebrated Dr. Evariste de Gypendole, an article which professes to defend the church, not against one class of objectors only, but against all objectors, past, present, and to come; and which actually contains, amid a world of wit and pleasantry, not duly appreciated by our unbelieving readers, an argument absolutely conclusive, in which we defy all the intellects in the world to find the least flaw or fallacy. If Christianity had a miraculous origin, or if the phenomena it exhibits are inexplicable without a miracle, it is from God, is his truth, and you have nothing to do but to receive it as such. Mrs. Jones, at her distaff, or any old woman in the land, of either sex, knows enough to know this. If you deny miracles, be so good as to explain the introduction of Christianity into the world, its reception, spread, and preservation as a divine, authoritative religion for eighteen hundred years, down to the present moment, among what on all hands must be conceded to be the most civilized, enlightened, and moral portion of mankind. There stands the fact before you, and there it has stood in all ages and in all lands for eighteen hundred years, no more to be denied or mistaken than the nose on your face. In some way you must explain it; and it will require a miracle a million times greater to explain it without a miracle, than it will to explain it with a miracle. Here is what the excellent doctor proves, and which you do not seem to have remarked.

Does our Protestant minister doubt it? Let him reflect, that, however agreeable or acceptable the Christianity he contends for may be to natural reason and the natural heart, the Christianity the race has believed, and still persists in believing, is repugnant to our whole nature. It mortifies our whole pride, crucifies our natural propensities, balks and baffles our reason, commands our detachment from the world, the abandonment of our dearest and most cherished interests, the entire renunciation of ourselves, and the total surrender of even our reason and will, all that we have, and all that we are, to an absolute authority, in whose decisions we have no voice, and which, be they what they may, we must conceive without question, and from the heart and conscience obey, without reserve and without reluctance. Does this commend itself to our young friend? Is he prepared to accept this religion? Will he go down on his knees before a man like himself, perhaps even a sinful man, and tell him all the secrets of his life, all his offences, his most filthy acts and thoughts, even those which he reddens to recall in the silence and solitude of his own self-examination? Will he? Not he. He can hardly restrain himself as he reads our statement. All that he regards as noble and manly in his nature rises indignant, as he contemplates this religion even at a distance. He feels that such a religion outrages all his rights and dignities as a man. He looks with a sort of loathing on the mean-spirited slaves who not only consent to wear, but even voluntarily bow down their necks to receive, its degrading and debasing yoke. It is too much for him. His benevolence is fired, his higher and nobler instincts are aroused, and, as it were, call out to him from the very depths of his humanity to rise, arm himself, go forth and strike, and strike home, for freedom – to break asunder the bonds of the assaulting tyrant, and liberate his long enslaved brethren from their thralldom – to knock off, and forever, those fetters which have rusted into their flesh, and eaten into their very souls. So feels, so to speak, human nature in our young friend, when he contemplates the Catholic religion. But human nature in all ages, and in each individual, is essentially what it is in our young Protestant minister; and in all, and in every age, then, it must, so far as human nature, have manifested the same repugnance to this religion it does in him, and been as opposed to its reception as he finds it. Does he think this religion could ever, without a miracle, have gained a footing in the world presenting such an opposition as his? Could even he, without a miracle, embrace it? Yet it has gained a footing, and become the dominant, the only progressive religion of the race. Men have received it, have believed it, have submitted their reason to it, bowed down their stubborn wills to it, have fought for it, have suffered the most extreme tortures for it, died for it, allowed themselves to be burnt, to be crucified, to be torn by wild beasts for it, and, perhaps, more than all, have lived for it, and lived it. How, on the principles of human nature, without a miracle, a perpetual miracle, could this religion makes its way in the world, - not only without, but in despite of, the civil authority, against an opposition as strong as that which our young friend experiences, perpetually renewed in each age and in each individual submitting to it? But if you concede the intervention of the Almighty, if you concede miracles, it is from God, is his religion; the controversy is ended, and the "bite in the head" is radically cured. Here is no paralogism, but a rigid induction from incontestable facts, and absolutely conclusive against all objectors, past, present, and to come, as the excellent Dr. Evariste de Gypendole justly maintains. This argument, though extracted from an admirable little French work, we have a right against the opponents of the church to claim as ours. The writer of the letter is mistaken, then, when he assumes that we argue to the church only from premises not attainable without assuming the authority of the church.

5. Nor does what the writer alleges, with regard to our use in controversy of the Holy Scriptures, sustain his assumption that we respond to our opponents only by a logical fallacy. There are two senses in which we can legitimately quote the Scriptures: - 1. Against all classes of opponents, as simple historical documents, not authenticated by the authority of the church, but in the same way as we authenticate Herodutus or Thucydides, Xenophon or Diodorus Siculus, Livy or Tacitus, Eusebius or Ammianus. In this sense, after having authenticated, we have just the same right to quote them for the historical facts they record, as we have any other historical documents; and these facts are legitimate against all objectors, from whatever point of view they object. 2. The second sense is as authority against all who profess to hold them to be the word of God, and to take them as the sufficient and exclusive rule of faith; on the ground, that every man is bound by the logical consequences of his own principles, that it is lawful to conclude against a man from his own admissions, to convict him on the testimony of his own witness. In this last sense, the argument is an argumentum ad hominum. In the essay on The Church against No-Church, and in the subsequent articles we have published in defense of it, we have quoted the Scriptures, it is true, but never except in one or the other of these senses. When reasoning against those who do not hold the Scriptures to be the word of God, we quote them only as simple history, but as an authentic history, which no one can successfully question; but when reasoning against those who concede them to be the word of God, we quote them in either sense. The objection so common amongst Protestants, that Catholics cannot quote the Scriptures in defense of the church without involving themselves in a vicious circle, arises from their not distinguishing between the Scriptures as historical documents and the Scriptures as the inspired word of God. To prove that they are the inspired word of God, and therefore matter for divine faith, we need the authority of the Catholic Church; but to prove them to be historical documents, and good authority in regard to the historical facts they record, we do not need this authority. We cannot prove them in that sense in which they may be a rule of faith, without the authority of the church; and if we quoted them in this sense in defense of our positions, save as an argumentum ad hominum, we should indeed be guilty of the paralogism alleged. But this we do not do. In the sense of history, we do not depend on the authority of the church to authenticate them, and therefore may legitimately quote them in defense of our positions against all classes of objectors, without being guilty of any logical fallacy at all, any more than we should be in quoting the public acts of the Jews and Romans, or the historical facts which make in our favor, recorded or alluded to by Pliny, Tacitus, Celsus, or Julian. Is this distinction, which is very real, too nice, too subtle, for our Protestant doctors? If not, why do they disregard it, and constantly allege that we take the church to prove the Scriptures, and the Scriptures to prove the church?

6. Nor are we debarred, by danger of a paralogism, from quoting Scripture in defense of our positions, by the fact, that our opponents have the same right to put their explanations upon the words of Scripture that we have to put ours upon them. Grant, says the objector, in effect, absolute authority to the words of Scripture, still I have a perfect right to give them such explanations as are in accordance with my general belief and prevailing habits of thought, and these explanations you cannot set aside without assuming that authority of the church which you are to prove, but have not as yet proved, because it is the very point in question. But it is necessary to distinguish. If his explanations do not violate the plain, natural sense of the words in the connection they stand in, and are authorized by the ordinary rules of understanding books, discourse, or language in general, we concede his right to give them; otherwise, we deny it. For, if he were at liberty to give an arbitrary meaning to the words, an obscure, unheard of, or unnatural meaning, - as if, where he reads yes, he should understand no; God, he should understand man; grace, he should understand nature; life, he should understand death; heaven, he should understand hell. – he would not yield absolute authority to them, which the objection concedes; indeed, he would yield to them no authority at all, and admit in them no independent sense by which he would or could be bound. If he concedes the absolute authority of the words of Scripture, he can have no right of explanation incompatible with that authority. He must, then, in all cases, be bound by the plain, obvious, natural sense of the words, according to the ordinary rules of understanding language in general. If not, language would at once be annihilated, and there would be an end to all interchange of thought between man and man.

But as either party has the same right to his explanations, and as there is as yet no umpire to decide between them when their explanations clash, both parties must, as a matter of necessity, confine themselves, in their use of Scripture, to what is clear, express, about which there is and can be no reasonable dispute; we do not say about which there may be no cavil, for there is nothing at which there may not be cavil; but about which there can be no reasonable question, - no question, in a fair, candid, or prudent exercise of reason. But so long as we confine ourselves to what is clear and express, to what is expressly said or necessarily implied, if the words are to taken in a plain, obvious, and natural sense, we have a right to quote Scripture in defense of our positions, and in doing so, we fall, necessarily, into no paralogical fallacy. In what we quote from the Scriptures, we confine ourselves always to what is clear and express to our purpose, and never adduce texts in any sense but that in which it is evident they must be taken, if taken in any sense at all. Our protestant minister, then, we repeat once more, is mistaken in his assumption; we do not employ the logical fallacy he assumes we do, - as he himself would have perceived, of he had considered our arguments more attentively before raising his objections to them.

II. But it is time to pass from the objection as it concerns the arguments we have used, and to consider it more immediately as it concerns the arguments which may be used. The writer’s thesis, we must bear in mind, is, that the authority of the church is logically unprovable. "I say," he says, "that no logical process can suffice for this result [the conversion of a Protestant to Catholicity]. And this impossibility your own arguments have abundantly shown." That our own arguments do not show this is evident from what we have said. The most he can say against our arguments is simply that they do not prove that the authority in question is provable; but from this he cannot legitimately conclude that there are no arguments that can prove it. Moreover, the only argument of ours he has noticed, and from which he argues against us, is simply an argumentum ad hominum, designed to convince those Protestant Christians who profess to believe in salvation, and faith as its condition sine qua non, that they must accept the church, without which faith is not possible, or deny the possibility of salvation. To argue, from the fact that this argument does not prove the authority of the church to those Protestant Christians who reject Christianity altogether, that the authority of the church cannot be proved by argument, is very much like arguing, from the fact that a certain cobbler is not a good sculptor, that there is not and cannot be a good sculptor; but it is hardly lawful to conclude, because a given thing is not done in doing a certain other thing, that it cannot be done at all.

But what else does he bring forward to sustain his position that the authority of the church is unprovable? Nothing, nothing at all. He has, in fact, offered not a single reason to show that it is not as provable as any other position which may be taken. He begins by telling us that he has considered our reasoning, but there are certain obstacles which make the case logically hopeless. He assumes that there are certain a priori objections, which place the authority of the church on such a footing that no argument in its defense can be entertained. This he should have made appear, but this he has not done. He has surprised us with no new objection, and the objections he has urged are nothing but objections which might have been taken from ourselves, minus our answers. We anticipated him in all he has said on this point, and answered him in advance, - as he would have seen, if he had read what we wrote, or taken leisure to master what he read. We assure him that we do not understand his right to urge against us objections we have ourselves taken up, without condescending, at least, to notice our answers. It may be a convenient way to refute a man, to take up the objections he raises against himself, and suppress his answers, and one of which Protestants in their controversies with Catholics not unfrequently avail themselves, as we have in our own case had occasion to remark; but whether it is the most honest or even honorable way in the world or not, we leave to others to settle.

The objection of our friend, simply stated, is, that the authority of the church, being supernatural, and lying out of the range of natural reason, cannot be legitimately argued to from any premises which natural reason can supply, or which can be valid for natural reason. This objection is precisely the objection we raised against ourselves, and attempted to answer, on our essay in defense of the church, already more than once referred to. That we cannot argue to it from premises supplied by natural reason alone, as the object of divine faith, we concede; but that we cannot as the object of human faith, we deny; and this is sufficient for our purpose; for, if we are able to argue to the authority of the church from premises that are valid for natural reason in that sense in which reason objects to it, it is false to say that it is not provable to natural reason. In proof that it is provable by natural reason to natural reason, which is the real point, as we shall hereafter show, we simply advert to what we replied when raising the objection ourselves to the church as the supernatural witness to the fact of revelation, in the article, The Church against No-church. – pp. 374-379.

There we proved clearly and conclusively, that the authority of the church is provable, or not a priori unprovable; and also how it may be proved, and proved with infallible certainty, - not with the infallible certainty of divine faith, of course, but with that of human faith, - which is all the certainty we for the moment were concerned with, and which, since it is all reason can demand, is infallible in relation to reason. In doing this, we prove that we have a good case, that we may be permitted to come into court, and adduce testimony in our defense. Our Protestant minister, then, must yield or join issue with us, not on the law, but on the evidence; and this issue we of course are prepared to meet. But he will not trust himself to this issue. There never would have been much controversy concerning the facts in the case, if the authority they are adduced to prove had not been assumed in the outset to be unsusceptible of proof. Christianity is rejected, whenever it is rejected, before the facts which sustain it are discovered to be uncertain or insufficient. Their doubtfulness or insufficiency is an afterthought, resorted to to justify the rejection to ourselves or to others.

III. The second general objection urged is, that faith, in the Catholic sense, is impossible. We do not understand the author of the letter to deny the possibility of faith in general, bu the particular species of faith we contend for. He denies what Catholics call divine faith, but not simply intellectual or human faith. This we gather from what he himself says. He defines faith to be trust or apprehension of spiritual things; and though he distinguishes this from intellectual assent to given propositions, we do not understand him to mean that intellectual assent is never to be yielded to any proposition at all, but only to a given class or order of propositions. That he wrote the letter before us is a given proposition, to which the intellect assents or does not assent. Our intellect assents to it. Is this assent unauthorized? If he says it is not, he concedes intellectual assent; if he says it is, he also concedes intellectual assent, because he cannot deny that it is authorized, without assenting intellectually to a proposition. Two and two are four. Here is a given proposition, in regard to which he must say he intellectually assents to it, intellectually dissents from it, or is unable to say whether he assents or dissents; but in one case or another he intellectually assents to a given proposition, though not to the same proposition. He who denies affirms; for the denial affirm the falsity of what is denied; and when the denial and affirmation are in the same order, both as to the subject and as to the object, one is as much an act of faith as the other. When, by the grace of God, we deny liberalism to be the revelation of God, we make an act of faith as well as by the same grace we affirm the truth of Catholicity. Universal denial is impossible; because he who denies at least affirms his own existence as the subject denying; and no man can doubt that he doubts. Moreover, the writer, in denying faith to be trust or apprehension of things spiritual, necessarily concedes faith in the sense of intellectual assent to given propositions. He will not say, most assuredly, that in that apprehension of things spiritual, which he calls faith, the things apprehended are denied, but must concede that they are affirmed. If affirmed, there is intellectual assent to a given proposition; but nothing but propositions are ever affirmed or denied. Trust also implies belief, and belief as distinguished from that intellectual assent termed knowledge; for it refers always to the future, of which we have and can have no direct and positive knowledge. The sun will rise tomorrow, is a given proposition. The writer doubtless trusts that the sun will rise tomorrow; but he could not so trust, did he not so believe. Belief is necessarily in all cases the basis of trust. But belief is always and necessarily an intellectual assent to a given proposition; since it would obviously be a contradiction in terms, either to say that a man believes what he does not intellectually assent to, or that he believes without believing anything. We are, therefore, bound, in simple justice to the writer, to presume, that, when he distinguishes faith from intellectual assent to given propositions, it is not his intention to deny all intellectual assent, nor all faith in the sense of intellectual assent to given propositions, but only intellectual assent to given theological propositions, or that species of faith which Catholics denominate divine faith. Hence the impossibility of eliciting faith, which he asserts, we must restrict then to divine faith, and not extend to all faith, whether human or divine. Furthermore we do not, in the objection we are about to consider, understand the objector to affirm the impossibility of eliciting faith on the ground that the authority is not possible, but on the ground that it is not possible to elicit it by means of the authority. If he took the first ground, this objection would resolve itself into the one we have just examined, and would be answered in what we have already said. But he distinguishes it from that, and evidently does not intend to adduce it as an additional proof of the impossibility of the authority, but as proof that the authority, of proved, would avail nothing, since it is impossible by its aid to elicit an act of faith in the Catholic sense. The evident intention of his argument is to disprove, not the possibility, but the utility, of authority. Hence, we must so interpret it as to save the possibility of the authority. This premised, we proceed to the argument.

"To accept the authority of the Roman Catholic Church either involves an act of faith, or it does not. If it does, this is the same as saying that an act of faith is required preliminary to any possible or even supposable act of faith, which is absurd; if it does not, then the investigation of the claims of that church becomes a purely intellectual process, requiring only the clearness of mind and moral honesty which any other intellectual process requires." From which, we suppose, he would conclude that an act of faith is impossible, or, if possible at all, possible only as merely intellectual or human faith, neither of which Catholicity can admit. We reply, - To the first part of the dilemma, we concede the supposition, but deny the consequence; because the act of faith necessarily, as faith, includes both antecedent and consequent, and therefore the acceptance of the authority is the act of faith, not its preliminary. To the second part, we deny of course the supposition, but concede the conclusion. There is a difference between the investigation of the claims of authority and its acceptance by an act of divine faith. The investigation is unquestionably a purely intellectual process, but the faith elicited on it may be not merely intellectual, but divine, as Catholicity asserts; because the investigation never motives the assent, but simply removes the intellectual obstacles to it.

The writer intended by this argument either to prove the impossibility of authority, or the impossibility of faith by authority. Not the first, as is evident from the terms of the argument itself, and from the fact, that if he had he would have been only repeating the argument in another form, which he had just urged, and which we have refuted in proving the authority provable; for, if provable, it cannot be metaphysically impossible. Then the second; but if so, he contradicts his intention, and makes the unsupposable supposition of an unauthoritative authority. He who supposes authority at all supposes, by the very force of the word, that which can authorize without any virtue but its own. This objection, then, is less creditable to the dialectician than to the "consistent Protestant."

2. We retort the argument. The objector, as we have seen, admits, at least, the possibility of human faith. But his argument, if it proves anything, proves that no act of faith, not even of human faith, is possible. The assumption in the argument is, that authority cannot authorize per se, by its own virtue, but must be accepted by a preliminary act before it can motive an act of faith. This preliminary act of acceptance must be itself an act of faith; for it is absurd to pretend that we can elicit faith on an authority that we do not believe, or that the assent on it can transcend the order of assent to it. Then this preliminary act of faith will require a prior and distinct authority to motive it, and this in turn will require to be accepted by a new act of faith motived by a new authority, and thus on in infinitum; so that no act of faith can be assumed to be possible without the assumption of an infinite series of acts of faith, motived by an infinite series of authorities, which is infinitely absurd. According to this reasoning, there can be no authority for faith, and no faith on authority. But all faith is on authority; for the very definition of faith, as our correspondent well knows, is assent on authority. Therefore there can be no faith. This definition of faith is per genus, not per differentiam; and therefore assent on authority must be essential to faith in general, common to all the species of faith, and therefore to human faith as well as to divine faith. Faith, then, is assent on authority. But either the acceptance of the authority involves an act of faith, or it does not. If it does, this is the same as saying an act of faith is required preliminary to any possible or even supposable act of faith, which is absurd. If it does not, then no act of faith is possible; for it is absurd to say that there can be faith on an authority not believed. Our correspondent, then, must either deny the possibility of an act of even human or intellectual faith, or abandon the principle of his objection, and concede that authority may be competent to motive its own acceptance, and therefore its acceptance not necessarily imply a preliminary act motived by a distinct and prior authority.

If the writer insists, and denies that he concedes the possibility of even human faith, as specifically defined, we will go further, and retort his argument in the region of what is called knowledge. His argument, if admitted, proves not only that faith specifically defined is impossible, but that all science and intuition are impossible. He is a bold man who is prepared to deny all human faith, all human belief, and proves that he does not fear to take his stand on the very edge of the gulf of absurdity; but he who is prepared to deny all knowledge, whether discursive or intuitive, proves that he has already taken the plunge into the gulf itself. But he, who asserts that authority cannot authorize till its acceptance is motived by another authority, does deny not only all faith, but all knowledge, whether discursive or intuitive. Faith and knowledge, though specifically distinguishable, are generically the same. Both are assent, and assent on authority. The denial of all assent on authority is, therefore, the denial of all knowledge, as well as of all faith.

That all knowledge, whether discursive or intuitive, is assent on authority, is as certain as any thing can be to natural reason. Demonstration, as the word itself indicates, merely shows the mind the conclusion in its relation to some principle or principles which the mind holds to be indubitable. It is the preamble to the assent yielded, but in no conceivable case its motive; and hence it is, that we not unfrequently find persons, not destitute of intellectual ability, who resist the force of the clearest demonstration. Two things respectively equal to a third are equal to one another. The demonstration of this consists in the discursive process which enables the mind to perceive that the equality predicted in the one case is the equality predicted in the other. The motive of the assent yielded to the conclusion is the principle that the same is the same, things identical are identical, what metaphysicians call the principle of contradiction or of non-contradiction. In every demonstration, the process is the same. The demonstration does not demonstrate its principle, but reduces the demonstrable matter to the principle or principles applicable in the case, and the mind assents solely on the authority of the principles. In discursive knowledge, it is clear, then, that there is, contrary to the objection, immediate assent on authority.

In intuition, whether internal or external, whether of principles or of material objects, it is the same. The same is the same; the same thing cannot both be and not be at the same time; whatever begins to exist must have a cause; no contingent being can exist without a sufficient reason, etc.; - are principles, however variously they may be expressed, which every reasonable being admits and must admit; but which cannot be proved, since every process of proof demands them as its postulates. We may be told that they are intuitively beheld; but this only means that they are held as constituent principles of reason, or simply as that which reason declares immediately to be necessary truth. The intuition does not seize them in se, but simply in reason, and the assent to them has and can have no motive but reason herself. Suppose the authority of reason, their validity is supposed; deny the authority of reason, and their validity is denied. The assent, then, to what are called first principles is solely assent on authority. In external intuition, the assent is also on authority. We behold a tree, a house, the sun; at least, so we say, but question the authority of our senses; how, then, could we say so? The assent we give to the proposition, we see a house, a tree, a man, the sun, or that in either of them we see a real object, rests for its motive on the authority of our perceptive power, and therefore is assent on authority. The whole of human knowledge, turn the matter as we will, resolves itself, in the last analysis, into assent on the authority of our faculties, that is to say, belief in our faculties; in science, belief in reason, in perception, in the perceptive power. No metaphysical analysis of either the objects apprehended, or of the faculties apprehending, can get behind this, as is easily proved; because, in attempting to verify the authority of our faculties, we must assume them, and the proof of them is necessarily the proof of the same by the same.

Now, to accept the authority of our faculties either involves an act of faith, or it does not. If it does, this is the same as saying an act of faith is required preliminary to any possible or even supposable act of faith, which is absurd. If it does not, then n act of knowledge is possible. Therefore, either no knowledge is possible, or an act of faith does not necessarily demand an antecedent authority. Our young friend, then, must either abandon the principle of his objection, or deny all knowledge. But this last he cannot do, if he would; because he can make the denial only by virtue of his faculties, and in making it necessarily supposes their authority. But, their authority supposed, it is false to say there can be no knowledge. Moreover, he cannot affirm his objection against us, without making an act of faith in the faculties on whose authority he affirms it. This act of faith is legitimate, or it is not. If it is, his objection is unfounded, because a legitimate act of faith is possible; if it is not, the objection is unfounded, by the very terms of the proposition, because it is made on an illegitimate authority. So in either case the objection falls to the ground, and the writer is precluded from the right to urge it.

4. The assumption on which the argument rests confounds the act of faith with the act of reasoning. It denies faith to be possible; because it is not discursive; which is as if we should say, an act of faith is not possible, because, if possible, it would be an act of faith, and not an act of reasoning; or as if we should deny the possibility of Peter, because, if he should exist he would be Peter, and not John. The argument assumes that in faith the authority is concluded by one act, and that which is received on it is concluded from it by another act, and then asks, But from what is the authority concluded? But this process is reasoning, not believing, - the act of discursion, not of faith. Faith, if it be faith, is immediate assent on authority, and therefore necessarily includes in one simple, indivisible act of assent both antecedent and consequent. This is faith; and faith, in this sense, we have shown, we must admit, or else deny the possibility of all demonstration and of all intuition. The solution of the whole difficulty lies in this distinction between faith and discursion. In discursion, we proceed by successive steps from antecedent to consequent; but in faith we do not. In reasoning we first conclude the authority, and then what the authority proposes; but faith does not conclude at all; it includes in one simple, indivisible affirmation both the authority and that which the authority proposes. Had our young friend been aware of this rather important fact, he would have spared us his objection; for he would himself have seen that the acceptance of the authority in the act of faith does not require an act precedent to the act of faith motived by a distinct and prior authority. Hence, our denial of the consequence in the first part of the dilemma is justifiable, and for the reason assigned, namely, because the act of faith, as faith, necessarily includes both antecedent and consequent, and therefore the acceptance of the authority is the act of faith, and not its preliminary.

IV. This distinction between the act of faith and the act of reasoning solves only the difficulty there may seem to be implied in the second part of the dilemma, namely: - if the acceptance of the authority does not involve an act of faith, "the investigation of the claims of the church becomes a purely intellectual process, requiring only the clearness of mind and moral honesty which any other intellectual process requires." The investigation of the claims of the church, o neither alternative proposed, is a purely intellectual process; for only the intellect investigates, and whatever objection to Catholicity this implies, we must meet it on the supposition that the acceptance of the authority does involve an act of faith, just as much as on the supposition that it does not. But there is no objection implied, unless Catholicity teaches, or is obliged to teach, that the assent in the act of faith is by virtue of the investigation, or motives or reasons which investigation discovers and adduces, as is evident of itself. But this she neither does nor is obliged to do.


1. It involves a contradiction in terms. Faith is immediate assent on authority, without any other motive than is contained in the creditive subject and the credible object, as already established. To make it depend on the motive adduced by investigation would be to make it depend on some motive not contained in the creditive subject and the credible object, and to make it, not faith, but reasoning; for then it would be mediate, not immediate, assent, - a logical inference from a given antecedent. But to assert that faith is reasoning, a logical inference, is to contradict one’s self in terms, for it is to deny the subject in the predicate.

2. The assent to any proposition is never, in any case whatever, by virtue of the preliminary investigation, or previous reasoning. This is evident from the analysis of the act of demonstration already given. In the act of reasoning there is never, strictly speaking, a new act of assent; for nothing is allowed to enter the conclusion not previous contained and declared in the premises. The conclusion only repeats, in a more clear and definite form, if you will, what had already been asserted in the premises; and consequently, in assenting to it, we only assent to what we had already assented to in another form and under other conditions. No reasoning can be carried on for a single moment, unless all that is to be concluded is admitted before reasoning begins; and all that reasoning ever does is to clear up our knowledge, and show that sometimes, perhaps always, in assenting to what we do assent to, we assent to more than we are aware of, or that our principles have a wider and more varied application than we at first perceived or suspected. This is evident in regard to syllogistic reasoning, as the opponents of that species of reasoning have clearly demonstrated. But all reasoning is syllogistic, and there is no actual or possible argument that may not, as logicians show, be reduced to a regular syllogism. The distinction set up by some writers on logic between syllogistic reasoning and inductive reasoning has no foundation in reality. Every induction is an enthymeme, and the suppressed premise may be easily supplied. But, however this may be, there is no advance of knowledge, that is, no new assent in induction. What is understood by induction, as the term is generally used, is simply generalization or classification, - that is, the assertion of a general law from the observation of a certain number of particulars; but the generalization, the moment it transcends the particulars observed, or is applied to other particulars, save so far as identical with these, and therefore improperly called other particulars, is in the predicament of the syllogistic conclusion which concludes what is not declared in the premises, and is a mere assertion, hypothesis, conjecture, or fancy. There is, then, and can be, in reasoning no new matter assented to; consequently, the assent given in the conclusion is only a repetition of the assent previously given in the premises, and as that was given prior to the act of reasoning, it cannot be motived by it, or be in virtue of it.

These two considerations show beyond the possibility of dispute, that Catholicity is not obliged to suppose the assent of faith to be by virtue of the intellectual process of investigation, and could not do so without placing herself in conflict with all the laws of belief and of science. Reasoning never does and never can motive the assent; all that is or can be in any supposable case is the mere preamble to the assent, removing such obstacles as may intervene intellectually between the creditive subject and the credible object. A great deal of useless labor would have been spared, if this fact had been generally borne in mind. But Catholicity not only is not required to suppose the assent is by virtue of the investigation, not only has no right to do so, and would condemn herself if she did, but she actually does not. For,

3. The assent on the part of the subject she teaches is by virtue of the donum fidei, or supernatural gift of faith. The investigation, however successful, could not give us faith; it could only show us that the authority of the church and what she proposes are involved in that is already believed or assented to by us, - or simply, that we must either accept the church and what she proposes, or deny the fundamental principles of reason. But this would not be what she understands or intends by faith, nor the least conceivable approach to it. The act of faith, in her sense, is a supernatural act, requiring a supernatural object and a supernatural subject. Simple human reason is not the creditive subject, and cannot elicit the act of faith, unless supernaturalized that is, supernaturalized, in quantum creditive subject, by the donum fidei, which is not the act of faith, but the virtue of faith, - a supernatural elevation of the natural vis creditiva, or power to believe. This is the gift of God; not a natural gift, that is, not a gift given in the fact that we are human beings, but given supernaturally, in elevating us from the order of nature to the order of grace. Thus supernaturalized, the creditive subject is placed on the plane of the supernatural credible object, and they are thus correlatively creditive and credible; and if no obstacle intervene, the act of faith is not only elicitable, but elicited, without other motive than is contained in the subject and object, as is the case with ever act of faith, whether human or divine, - by virtue, not of the preliminary process of reasoning, but of the donum or gift of faith supernaturally bestowed on the subject. This is what Catholicity teaches, and she affirms the possibility of faith on these conditions and no others. Therefore, conceding the investigation of the claims of the church to be a purely intellectual process, it does not follow that the act of faith itself, whether understood of the assent to the authority, or of the assent to what the authority proposes, is a purely intellectual act, or an act of faith on simple human reason or authority.

V. But our Protestant friend may reply, - Granting all this, it follows that you do not conclude the authority by a logical process; and this is precisely what I tell you. "I do not say no Protestant can ever become a Romanist [Catholic]. This would be to contradict well known facts. But I do say that no purely logical process can suffice for such a result, and this impossibility your own arguments abundantly show." And is not this precisely the sum and substance of what you have now, ex professo, proved?

1. This objection does not take us by surprise, nor find us unprepared with an answer. In the first place, we remark that the objection is here supposed in a sense somewhat different from the one intended in the letter. The objection there is not that a logical process cannot suffice because the subject cannot be, in relation to the supernatural object of faith, creditive subject, unless supernaturalized by the infused virtue of faith, or the donum fidei; but because the arguments we use in proving the credibility of the church involve a paralogism, or the fallacy of attempting to prove the same by the same. This we have denied, and shown that our arguments in relation to their purpose as arguments are sound, and as strictly logical as arguments can be. This answers the objection in the sense intended by the writer.

2. In the second place, we have never pretended that the actual conversion of a Protestant to a Catholic demanded nothing more than a logical process, or that the assent of faith could be the logical consequent of a logical antecedent. To that conversion, to that assent, we have uniformly contended that the grace of God, the supernatural gift of faith, was not only useful but necessary as a medium. The logical process was simply to show that such assent, though above our natural reason, is in accordance with it, and has all the conditions natural reason can demand or conceive to be essential. It was not urged as the motive of assent, or that by virtue of which the assent is elicited; for that we knew it was not, and could not be, for that it is not even in human faith. If the writer intended, then, to allege that the logical process is insufficient because it does not and cannot supply the motive or virtue by which the act of faith is elicited, he objected to what was not in question, and was betrayed into the fallacy called ignorantia elenchi.

3. But, thirdly, we deny that the assertion of the absolute necessity of the donum fidei, as the virtue by which the act of faith is elicitable and elicited, militates in the least against the sufficiency of the logical process. There may be, and undoubtedly are, many operations for which logic does not suffice. It does not suffice to impart soundness to a gangrenous limb, to build a house, to navigate a ship, to paint a Madonna, or to chisel a crucifix; for in all these there is required a power which logic does not and cannot generate or furnish; but it would be absurd for this reason to pronounce the logical process insufficient, if it sufficed for what in any of these operations it is needed for, or for which it would not be illogical to demand it. That logical process suffices, which suffices for the legitimate purpose or end of a logical process, or which accomplishes all which, according to the nature of logic, there is for it to accomplish. In the case supposed, the conversion of a Protestant or unbeliever to Catholicity, ascertain what there is for which logic is needed, or for which logic, according to its office in other cases, can be demanded, and if it suffice for that, it cannot be pronounced insufficient. This premised, we proceed to determine what it is logic, in the supposed case, is needed for.

1. The logical process is not needed, either in human faith or in divine faith (for in this respect both are the same), to supply any of the positive conditions of faith. The subject and object of both must be given independently of the logical process, or not given at all; and the subject must also be given as creditive, and the object as credible. The logical process never furnishes, and is never required to furnish, the subject with the faculty of believing, or the object with the capacity of being believed. Our Protestant friend would hardly expect by a logical process to bring his horse to believe his liberalism, and the demonstration does not make the object credible, but merely shows it to be so. But all the positive conditions of faith are supposed when the subject and object are supposed, the one creditive, the other credible; because faith is immediate assent, demanding no motive or virtue but what is contained in the subject assenting, and object assented to, and this, too, whether the object be naturally or supernaturally credible, and the subject naturally or supernaturally creditive.

2. The logical process is never wanted in the case of actual believers, or in that of the children of the faithful, until they make an act of infidelity. Nothing is wanting or can be added, where all the conditions of faith are present. The believer has in the sacrament of Baptism received the donum fidei, or grace of faith, and by this it is creditive subject, and the church has through her pastors and teachers proposed the credible object, and he has therefore all that is necessary or can be conceived as necessary to elicit an act of fai