The Protestant Rule of Faith (Brownson dissects the Protestantism of a Princeton Professor) Catholic World, Jan., 1872

The Protestant Rule of Faith

Dr. Hodge is an Old School Presbyterian, and a sturdy opponent of what among Protestants is called the “New England theology.”  He is a man of learning and ability, and one of the most distinguished theologians in the Presbyterian church.  If he has failed to produce Protestantism to a system, complete, uniform, and coherent in all its parts, it is not his fault, but undeniably the fault of Protestantism itself, which is not all of a piece, which consists of fragments only a truth, with no genetic relation one to the another, or connecting links, and which no mortal man can mold into a systematic whole.  What man can do so with so untoward a subject Dr. Hodge has done, if we may judge from the volume before us, and, as far as our knowledge goes, his work is the least unsuccessful attempt to construct a complete and consistent system of Protestant theology that has as yet been made.

Neither our space nor our leisure permits us to review the entire volume, or to discuss the author’s system in its several bearings; a better opportunity to do that will be presented when we have the completed work before us, of which only the first volume has as yet been published.  We shall confine ourselves for the present to a single question, namely, the Protestant rule of faith.  The author devotes the entire Chapter V of his Introduction to the statement and refutation, as he understands it, of the Catholic, or, as he says, the Romanist rule of faith; but as his objections to that rule and his supposed refutation of it presuppose the truth of Protestantism, and are of no account if the Protestant rule of faith is invalid or inadequate, we need not stop to defend it, but are free to pass at once to the examination of the Protestant rule which he opposes to it.  If that can be asserted and maintained as a rule of faith, or authority for determining what is the faith God has revealed and commanded us to believe, the Catholic rule is indefensible, or at least unnecessary.

The author is not very clear and definite in his statement of the Protestant rule of faith.  He says, “All Protestants agree in teaching that ‘the Word of God as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments is the only infallible rule of faith and practice’; but from his assertion of the right of private judgment and several of his objections to the Catholic rule, we may, without danger of error, take the Protestant rule of faith to be the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, or the Bible interpreted by private judgment – that is, interpreted without any public or catholic authority – as the Protestant rule or standard of faith.  But this is rather the denial than the assertion of a rule, because it presents no rule or standard to which private judgment must conform in order to be any thing but naked opinion.  The Bible, even conceding its divine inspiration and sufficiency, cannot be the rule or standard for private judgment, if it is to be interpreted by private judgment, for that would require private judgment to judge what the faith is, before it has any rule by which to judge what it is.  The Protestant doctrine confounds the rule of faith with the place of faith, and private judgment with individual judgment.  In private judgment, the individual judges by no objective rule or standard, and his judgment is purely subjective, and is worth nothing even for himself; but an individual judgment is not necessarily private, for it may be by a rule or standard common to all men, what we call a public or catholic rule.  A judgment dictated by reason, or the reason which is common to all men and the same in all, is not a private but a public judgment, and binds all men to whose knowledge it comes as much as it does the individual who renders it.  Men may sin against reason as well as against faith.  Men are bound to exercise their reason, the reason common to all men, in all questions submitted to reason or within its province, and are bound to do so in interpreting the Bible so far as its interpretation comes within the province of reason, and may abode by its decisions, unless overruled by a higher authority – as the lawyer has the right to abide by his own judgment of the meaning of a statute, or as to what the law is, till the court decides against him; but private judgment is a private opinion.

Dr. Hodge holds that the Scriptures contain not all the revelation Christ and his apostles made, but all that is now extant.  But, even if so, his doctrine only makes them the place of faith; it tells where the faith is, but not what it is.  They may be the fountain, but they cannot be the rule or standard, of faith.  The rule is precisely that which is necessary to enable us to draw the faith from the Scriptures, and determine that it is the faith God has revealed and commanded us to believe as his word.  The Protestant rule as given, then, is no rule of faith at all, and it is impossible to elicit by it an act of faith.  The author is too hasty, then, in setting aside the Catholic rule on the authority of his Protestant rule, which, in order to be a rule, demands a catholic rule of judgment, as he himself virtually concedes. (p.127)

Dr. Hodge makes it a grave objection to the church that she does not allow private judgment as a rule of faith; yet it is only as against the church or Catholics that he himself allows it.  When his aim is to destroy Catholic faith or to detach Catholics from their fidelity to the church, he asserts the unrestricted right of private judgment; but, when he wishes to build up faith or to establish Protestantism as a positive doctrine, he restricts it, and confines it to the regenerate.  It is not everyone who is free to interpret the faith or the Scriptures according to his own private judgment; but only those who have been regenerated, and are enlightened and led by the Holy Ghost.  But even this does not help him, for he has no public or catholic rule by which to determine who are or who are not regenerated, and the individual himself has only his own private judgment by which to test the spirits, and to determine whether the spirit by which he is led is the spirit of truth or the spirit of error.  The blessed Apostle John tells us not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits, for there are many false prophets gone out into the world.  Now, what is wanted is an objective test or touchstone of truth by which to try the spirits.  This cannot be the subjective leanings of the spirit, for they are precisely what is to be tested in order to determine that they are from God, and not from the enemy of souls taking the guise of an angel of light in order to deceive.  The learned professor, then, even with the restriction of private judgment to the regenerate, and the assumption of the interior assistance and guidance of the Spirit, though contradicting himself, gets no rule of faith, and has at best only the place of faith. 

The learned author is aware that the Bible interpreted by private judgment is no rule, at least no adequate rule, of faith, and so he seeks to supply its deficiency by tradition.  He says, “Protestants admit there has been a stream of traditionary teaching flowing through the Christian church from the day of Pentecost to the present time.  This tradition is so far a rule of faith that nothing contrary to it can be true.  Christians do not stand isolated, holding each his own creed.  They constitute one body, having one creed.  Protestants admit there is a common faith of the church, which no man is at liberty to reject, or can reject and be a Christian.” (pp. 113,114.)  This would seem to make the Protestant rule not the Bible interpreted by private judgment and private illumination, but the Bible interpreted by the traditionary teaching of the church or the common faith of the Christian body.  This, if it meant any thing, would be fatal to Protestantism.  The author says, “Christians constitute one body with a common creed.  Rejecting this creed, or any of its parts, is the rejection of the fellowship of Christians, incompatible with the communion of saints or membership in the body of Christ.”  It is undeniable that the Catholic Church included at the epoch of the reformation the whole Christian body, except those cut off from that body as heretics and schismatics; and it is equally undeniable that the reformers or first Protestants did reject what was then the creed of this body, or at least important parts of it, and, therefore, did reject what our Princeton professor says “no man is at liberty to reject, and which no man can reject and be a Christian.”  The reformers, then, were not, and Protestants who hold from them are not and cannot be, Christians.

But the author would avoid this conclusion by making the tradition he concedes mean nothing, or at least nothing tangible.  When Protestants speak of the common consent of Christians, he says, “they understand by Christians the true people of God,” that is, “the truly regenerate, holy men, the temples of the Holy Ghost.”  They understand not a public external organic body, but an invisible and inorganic body of believers, confined to no one external communion, that is, men who belong to what Catholic theologians call “the soul of the church.”  Yet even these prior to Protestantism were, if not the whole body of Catholics, in the Catholic Church, and held firmly, and more firmly than others, the very creed, or the very parts of it, which Protestants reject as Roman or papal corruption.  Even conceding this restriction, the author would hardly be able to avoid the conclusion that Protestants do reject the common creed of the true people of God, for these true people of God, whoever they might be, were included in the visible Catholic Church, and held its faith.  But let this pass.  How is the Protestant to ascertain who these people are?  Or how ascertain what is their creed or common faith, if he does not determine it by the creed publicly professed by the external or visible church in which they are concealed?

Here is a grave difficulty, and much graver than our Protestant professor would seem to regard it.  The Scriptures interpreted by unregenerate men, he holds, are no rule or criterion of faith; it is only the private judgment of the regenerate, of those who are led by the Spirit, that is to be heeded, and the common faith of all such, the true people of God, is obligatory, and the faith which no one can reject in whole or in part and be a Christian.  But we cannot avail ourselves of their traditionary teaching or common consent as a rule of faith, or for the interpretation of Scripture, unless we know who they are.  But, as they are not an outward visible public body, but an invisible, inorganic, and, so to speak. A private body, we cannot know who they are without some rule or criterion by which we can distinguish them from the ungodly, or from those who, according to St. Augustine, are in the church, but not of the church.  Hence the difficulty.  We must have, prior to the application of the Protestant rule, another rule, a catholic rule, by which to determine and apply it.  We cannot use the Protestant rule unless we know what it is, and we cannot know what it is without a prior rule for determining who are the true people of God, the elect, and what is their common creed, or traditionary teaching from the day of Pentecost down to our times.  But our learned professor has neglected to give us this antecedent rule, without which the one he gives us is no rule at all.  He gives no mark or sign by which we can recognize the invisible people of God, and we do not think he can; for we do not believe anybody knows or will know who they are till the last judgment, when the secrets of all hearts will be laid open.

It will not do here to refer us to the Bible for the rule by which to ascertain them; for we must know them and their common faith in order to obtain our guide to the sense of the Bible.  We cannot take the sense of the Bible to determine them, and then take them to determine the sense of the Bible.  It will not do, again, to say they are they who are led by the Spirit, for it is precisely those who are led by the Spirit that we wish to ascertain; nor will it do to appeal to religious experience, for it is only the religious experience of the true people of God that can avail, and that would be referring us to the people of God to tell us who are the people of God.  It would be to reason like the poor Anglican, who makes orthodoxy the test of the church, and the church the test of orthodoxy.  “Jack, where is the hoe?” “Wid de harrow, Massa.” “Where is the harrow?” “Wid de hoe, Massa.”  The Protestant, in any case, gives no more satisfactory answer; for, with all his pretensions, he can only tell us that the true faith is the faith held and followed by the true people of God, and the true people of God are they who hold and follow the true faith.

The author, as we have seen, says, “when Protestants plead the common consent of Christians – the common faith of the Christian body – they mean by Christians the true people of God.  Romanists, on the other hand,” he continues, “mean the company of those who profess the true faith, and who are subject to the Pope of Rome.  There is the greatest difference between the authority due to the common faith of truly regenerate, holy men, the temples of the Holy Ghost, and that due to what a society of nominal Christians profess to believe, the great majority of whom may be worldly, immoral, and irreligious.”  But where did the professor learn that the authority of the teaching depends on the personal virtue of the teacher?  How does he know that they who recognize the authority of the pope is not led and assisted by the Spirit in his office of teacher of the universal church?  Nay, how does he know, or how can he prove to us or anybody else, that there are any of the true people of God among Protestants at all?  He must prove his rule of faith before proceeding to apply it.

Dr. Hodge continues, on the same page (115): “The common consent for which Protestants plead concerns only essential doctrines; that is, doctrines which enter into the very nature of Christianity as a religion, and which are necessary to its subjective existence in the heart, or which, if they do not enter essentially into the religious experience of believers, are so connected with vital doctrines and precepts as not to admit a separation from them.”

Here is the same difficulty again.  What is the Protestant rule for distinguishing among revealed doctrines those which are essential and those which are not essential?  Will the author tell us those essentials are those doctrines which all Protestants agree in teaching, and that those in which they do not agree in teaching are non-essentials? But who are Protestants?  All those who agree in teaching the essentials?  Where is the hoe?  With the harrow.  Where is the harrow?  With the hoe.  This would be only to adopt the principle of poor Jack’s replies to the questions of his master.  

But no.  The essentials are “those doctrines which enter into the very nature of Christianity as a religion, and, which are necessary to its subjective existence in the heart.” But how determine what these are, unless we know the very nature of Christianity?  And how can we know or determine what is the very nature of Christianity, unless we have a rule or standard of faith?  But the essentials are those doctrines which “are necessary to its subjective existence in the heart.”  What doctrines are these?  Have Protestants any objective rule for determining them?  The professor gives none except the Scriptures, which do not suffice, because, as we have seen, the Scriptures are the place, not the rule of faith, and what we are seeking is the rule or authority for determining what is the faith they contain.  Among Protestants there is a very great diversity of views as to what is necessary to the subjective existence of religion in the heart.  Schleiermacher, in his Discourse on Religion, addressed to the Cultivated among its Despisers, maintains that only the sense of dependence is necessary to the subjective existence of religion; Twesten, as cited by the author, maintains the same, and that in a subjective sense all religions are equally true, though not equally pure; some Protestants place the essence of religion in reverence; Dr. Channing seemed to place it in philanthropy, or in a sense of the dignity of man; others in “self-culture,” in “self-worship”; and a distinguished Protestant minister maintained to us, some years ago, that a pantheist, like Spinoza, or an atheist, like Shelley, might not only be truly religious, but a good Christian.  There are thousands and thousands in all Protestant denominations who, virtually at least, regard the subjective existence of religion in the heat as nearly, if not totally, independent of all objective doctrines or faith.  Such is at least the tendency of modern Evangelicalism, Bushnellism, Beecherism, from which even our author himself is not always free.  He makes, indeed, a brave fight for dogmatic theology or objective faith, but his concessions to Whitefieldian and Wesleyan notions of religious experience place him on the declivity to pure religious subjectivism.  All these have the Scriptures, and profess to take them for their rule of faith and practice; but it is evident from what we have said that the Scriptures are not a sufficient rule by which to determine what are essentials and what are not.  What rule, then, have Protestants by which to make the distinction? 

Dr. Hodge says, in refutation of the Catholic rule, which, by the way, he does not correctly state: “Our Lord, in promising the Spirit to guide his people into the knowledge of truths necessary to their salvation, did not promise to preserve them from error in subordinate matters, or to give them a supernatural knowledge of the organization of the church, the number of the sacraments, or the power of bishops.” (Pp. 115, 116)  Then, on these matters, the organization of the church, the number of the sacraments, and the power of bishops, Protestants have no promise of exemption from error, and hence it is quite possible that they err in rejecting the Catholic doctrine of the church, of the hierarchy and the sacraments.  But the professor’s limitation of the promise of our Lord is not warranted by his own professed rule.  The promise, as recorded by the evangelists is unlimited: “But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind whatsoever I shall have said to you.” (St. John 14, 26)  This is explicit enough.  But, again, “But he, the Spirit of truth, when he shall come, will teach you all truth.”  (Ibid 14, 13)  Therefore, our Lord said to his apostles, “Go ye, and teach all nations…to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.”  (St. Matt. 28. 19,20.)  This is a promise of guidance of the Spirit into all truth, and of exemption from error, in any thing which our Lord has said or commanded.

If we were defending the Catholic rule, we should remind the author that this promise was made to the ecclesia docens, and only through that to the ecclesia credens; but, as we are not defending the Catholic rule, we suffer him to apply it to what he calls the true people of God.  Yet, if he accepts the plain declaration of our Lord himself as recorded in the Gospels, he has no authority for distinguishing between essentials and non-essentials in the revelation of God, and none at all for restricting the promise of preservation from error only in certain fundamental truths of revelation.  The author must either give us the rule or authority on which he makes the distinction and limitation, or concede that he makes it by no rule, and, therefore, on no authority.

Dr. Hodge tells us (p. 151) that “all Protestants agree in teaching that the word of God, as contained in the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible rule of faith.”  He should have said some Protestants;  for many who claim to be Protestants do not agree in teaching that.  Will the professor say that those who do not so agree are not Protestants?  By what authority?  By the authority of the Bible, interpreted by private judgment?  But they have the Bible and private judgment as well as he, or those who agree with him.  Will he appeal to tradition?  But tradition taken as a whole condemns him as well as those who differ from him.  Then he must discriminate in tradition between what is to be followed and what is to be rejected.  But this discrimination demands a rule of judgment.  But what rule can the author allege?  Private judgment?  But that is no rule, for private judgment is by its very definition a judgment without any rule or standard of judgment, and, besides, those who differ from him have private judgment, and theirs is worth as much as his.  Will the author answer again – The tradition or common consent of the true people of God?  But who are they?  Here, then, we are back in the old difficulty.  Protestantism moves always in a vicious circle; proving its rule by its faith, and its faith by its rule.  We see no way by which it can get out of this circle.  It is not only as a Catholic we have felt this difficulty; we felt it as a Protestant, when we had the misfortune to by a Presbyterian, like our learned friend the Princeton professor.

We are sure the fault is not the professor’s, for he doubtless sees that he moves in a vicious circle as clearly as we do, and no doubt would come out of it and move forward in a straight line, if he could.  The fault is in Protestantism itself, which is essentially illogical, and does not conform to the divine order or the truth of things.  The reformers themselves started without seeing that the Catholic system, parts of which they rejected, was a systematic whole, and that, if one part was retained, the whole must be retained, and, if one part was rejected, the whole must be rejected.  This is what Moehler has so admirably shown in his Symbolik.  But the reformers did not wish to reject the whole; they wished to reject only a part, and in the beginning only a small part.  They wished to remain Catholic, minus one or two dogmas, and, after the condemnation of Luther by Leo X, minus the pope and the Roman curia. But they were driven onward further than they intended, and further than they foresaw or were prepared for.  They constructed no rule of faith beforehand, and adopted one only as the exigencies of the controversy with Catholics made one necessary; still, except on certain points, they continued using the old Catholic rule.  Hence their Protestantism was patched up with shreds of the old religion, eked out by such new cloth as they were able to supply to meet the pressure of the occasion.  It was formed not all at once, nor all of one piece.  It was formed little by little in the struggle to maintain themselves against their Catholic adversaries, and to retain as much of what had always been the faith of Christendom as was possible in the position they assumed.  In forming it, they were much more intent on demolishing what our professor calls “Romanism” than of laying a solid foundation for a Protestant superstructure. 

The simple fact is, the Protestant movement could find no solid foundation except in pure rationalism, or, rather, in pure individualism, in which every man is his own church, his own rule of faith, his own law, and his own God – a conclusion from which Luther and Calvin would have recoiled with horror, as recoils Dr. Hodge today.  The reformers did not see, for they were, as all Protestants are, sad logicians in matters of religion, whither their movement tended, nor dream that one day they would be called on to show that their religion rests on a solid foundation, or a bottom of its own, irrespective of any relation to the Catholic Church, and when they must prove that it is something besides a mere protest against the church of Rome.  They thought they could throw off Rome and a few dogmas, and still remain true Christian believers.  In this they were deceived; for they were too little for Christianity and too much for its full denial.  They retained certain positive Christian doctrines, but they had no authority for them except the Catholic authority which they madly rejected.  Hence, when we press them for the authority on which they assert these doctrines, they fall into the vicious circle in which we find them for ever gyrating, and from which not even Dr. Hodge can relieve them.

The author says (p. 104), “Romanists agree with Protestants in teaching the plenary inspiration and consequent infallible authority of the sacred writings.”  But this is a mistake.  Catholics do not agree with Protestants, but some Protestants – by no means all Protestants – agree with the church in maintaining the Catholic doctrine of the “plenary inspiration and consequent infallible authority of the sacred writings.”  It is simply a Catholic doctrine retained by the reformers from the church, which taught it nearly fourteen hundred years before Protestantism was born.  The able and learned professor, we are sorry to observe, forgets that the church in some centuries older than the oldest Protestant sect, that the founders of Protestantism had all been reared in her communion, and separated from her.  Protestants have undeniably no historical connection with our Lord and his apostles, save through the Catholic Church, or the church in communion with the See of Rome. Whatever doctrines Protestants hold that the church has always held and taught are hers, not theirs; and it is a grave mistake to pretend that they are Protestant doctrines.  Protestantism consists essentially and solely in those things which distinguish it from Catholicity, or in what is peculiar to it and constitutes its differentia -  in what it denies that the church asserts, and it asserts that she denies.  If they have stolen some of her doctrines, that does not make them any the less hers by right, nor give them the right to appropriate them as their own.  There is not a single doctrine which Protestants profess to hold – which she teaches, and always has taught – to which they, as Protestants, have any title, or which they can prove to be revealed truth independently of her testimony and authority.  It is disregarding this truth that gives to Protestantism the appearance of being a religion.

 We return to the word of God as contained in the Old and New Testaments.  Before the author can assert the Scriptures as the infallible rule of faith, he must settle, first, the canon; second, the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures; third, the completeness or sufficiency of the Scriptures; fourth, the true sense of the Scriptures.  Now, not one of these points is it possible for a Protestant to settle independently of the witness and authority of the Catholic Church, and Dr. Hodge confirms our assertion by his manifest failure to settle any one of them on Protestant grounds.  They are all questions of faith, and not one of them can be settled prior to or without the rule of faith; and yet on Protestant grounds they must all be settled before the rule of faith can be ascertained and applied.

Protestants exclude from the canon of the Old Testament several books called by some the deuteron-canonical books, which are included in it by the Catholic Church, and even the schismatic churches of the East, and they are far from being agreed among themselves as to what books are or are not canonical.  Some would exclude the book of Ruth and the Canticle.  As to the New Testament, Luther had doubts, if our reading or memory be not at fault, of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and that of St. Jude, and rejected the Epistle of St. James, which he called an epistle of straw, probably because it flatly contradicts his doctrine of justification by faith alone; others have doubted the canonicity of these, and, in addition, of the Apocalypse, the second Epistle of St. Peter, the second and third of St. John, and that of St. Paul to Philemon; others still reject the Gospel according to St. John, and indeed the whole New Testament, except the Synoptics – and these, while they admit them as authentic, they deny to be inspired.  The Princeton professor may deny these to be Protestants, but they have as good a right to exclude from the canon such books as they judge proper as had Luther and Calvin; and there is no rule by which he can make out that he is a Protestant that will not equally serve to prove that they are Protestants.  The only rule available is Catholic tradition, and that condemns him as well as them.

The professor does not rely on the authority of the synagogue, though he adduces it, to settle the canon of the Old Testament, for that would be anti-Protestant; but attempts to settle it by the authority of the New Testament.  Such books as he finds a text quoted from by our Lord or his apostles he assumes to be canonical and inspired; but such as he does not find thus quoted from, he rejects from the canon.  But this is not conclusive, for the author concedes that our Lord and his apostles said many things that are not recorded in the New Testament, and how does he know that in those many unrecorded discourses the books which he rejects as uncanonical, and which Catholics hold to be canonical, were not quoted?  Then, by what authority does he pretend that a citation of a text from a book proves the book to be canonical or the whole book to be inspired?  St. Paul, at Athens, cites Arrian, and in his Epistle to the Hebrews he manifestly adopts a phrase and a sentiment from Plato’s Republic: must we therefore conclude that the writings of Arrian and Plato’s Republic are canonical, and Arrian and Plato to be included in the list of the divinely inspired writers?  Has the professor any assertion of our Lord or of any writer in the New Testament that a Jewish or any other book cited by him or by his apostles is canonical and divinely inspired?  Certainly not.  St. Paul says in his second Epistle to Timothy, “All Scripture divinely inspired is profitable,” etc., but he does not say what Scriptures are or are not divinely inspired.

Then, again, as to the New Testament, the author concludes that, during the first century and later, the canon of the New Testament was uncertain.  It, then, was not settled by our Lord or his apostles themselves.  On what authority, then, was it settled?  Manifestly only on the authority of the church, that is, of popes and councils.  But our Princeton professor denies the authority of popes and councils; denies the infallibility of the church; nay, he denies that the church, Catholic or Protestant, has any teaching authority, fallible or infallible.  The canon neither of the New Testament nor of the Old is settled, then, by any infallible rule or authority.  How, then, can the professor maintain that Protestants have, in the Scriptures, an infallible rule of faith?  No fallible rule suffices for infallible faith.

As Protestants are unable, without the authority of the church or tradition, to settle the canon, so are they unable, without the same authority, to determine what books are or are not divinely inspired.  The author contends that it suffices to prove that the writers were messengers from God, and commissioned to speak or write in his name.  But that cannot be proved unless they accredited themselves as such by their miracles, and not even then, unless the miracles are attested to us by a competent and credible witness of them.  Who or what, for Protestants, is that witness?  The Record!  But the record may have been forged or interpolated, and must, before it can be adduced as evidence, be authenticated.  How can the Protestant authenticate it, except by showing that it has been carefully and vigilantly guarded from the first till now by an official keeper with whom it was deposited?  Deny the church as the depositary of the record, as the Protestant does, and there is no certain means of authenticating the record, and then none of authenticating the miracles; then none of establishing the fact of the divine commission of the sacred writers, and consequently none of proving the divine inspiration of the sacred writings, since inspiration is a supernatural fact.

But did it ever occur to our learned professor that he has, in order to prove the inspiration of the Scriptures, not only to take the authority of the church for so much, but to prove, before he can allege the authority of the Scriptures, all the Catholic has to prove, in order to prove the divine authority and infallibility of the church?  He must prove that our Lord and his apostles spoke and wrote by divine authority, and that is all the Catholic has to prove.  In either case, the authority, whether of the church or of the Bible, turns on the fact of the divine commission, which the Protestant must prove in the very outset as well as the Catholic, and which he cannot prove if he rejects the testimony of the church as the contemporary and living witness of the facts.  The church, having been founded by and grown out of that commission, and continuing without interruption from the apostles down to us, is herself the living witness of the facts which prove the commission.  She authenticates the record; but the Protestant has, in addition to authenticating the record which proves the commission, to establish the genuineness, integrity, and authenticity of the sacred writings before he can infer their divine inspiration and infallible authority, or use them as a rule of faith, and not even then unless their writers expressly declare them to be inspired, for it is possible for divinely commissioned men to write at times on matters not covered by their commission.

But we are not yet through with the Protestant’s difficulties, if he is to proceed independently of Catholic tradition.  Supposing him to have proved all this, he still has to prove the completeness or sufficiency of the Scriptures.  Dr. Hodge does not pretend that the Scriptures contain all the revelations made by our Lord to his apostles, but only what is now extant.  “It is not denied,” he says (pp. 182, 183), “that there may have been, and probably were, books written by inspired men which are no longer in existence.  Much less is it denied that Christ and his apostles delivered many discourses which were not recorded, and which, could they now be known, would be of equal authority with the books now regarded as canonical.”  But how does he know that these discourses or the instructions they contained are now lost, or that they are not preserved and as well known and authenticated in the traditions of the church as the canonical books themselves?  Furthermore, how does he know that it is not precisely in these discourses which were not recorded that is to be found the key to the sense of those which were recorded?  The church has always so held and taught; indeed, the author himself concedes that, at the first, the whole revealed word, whether written or unwritten, went by the name of tradition, and the written tradition was not distinguished from the unwritten.  He says:

“In the early church, the word [tradition] was used in this wide sense.  Appeal was constantly made to the traditions, that is, the instructions the churches had received.  It was only certain churches at first that received any of the written instructions of the apostles.  And it was not till the end of the first century that the writings of the evangelists and apostles were collected and formed into a canon or rule of faith.  And when the books of the New Testament had been collected, the fathers spoke of them as containing the ‘traditions,’ that is, the instructions derived from Christ and his apostles…In that age of the church, the distinction between the written and the unwritten word had not yet been distinctly made.  But as controversies arose and disputants on both sides of all questions appealed to ‘tradition,’ that is, to what they had been taught; and when it was found that these traditions differed, one church saying their teachers always taught them one thing, and another that theirs had taught them its opposite, it was felt that there should be some authoritative standard.  Hence the wisest and best of the fathers [who were they?] insisted on abiding by the written word, and receiving nothing as authoritative not contained therein.  In this, however, it must be confessed, they [the wisest and best of the fathers] were not always consistent.  Whenever prescription, usage, or conviction founded on unwritten evidence was available against an adversary, they did not hesitate to make use of it.  During all the early centuries, therefore, the distinction between Scripture and tradition was not so sharply drawn as it has been since the controversies between Romanists and Protestants, and especially since the decisions of the Council of Trent” (pp. 108, 109)

There are several inaccuracies in this passage.  In the early ages of the church, when controversies arose and contradictory traditions were alleged, appeal was not made to the written word, but to the churches founded by St. Peter, or by his immediate authority, that is to Antioch, Alexandria, or Rome, or to a council, provincial, plenary, or oecumenical, as can hardly be unknown to so learned a theological scholar as Dr. Hodge.* [*If the written word had been regarded as the sufficient and only rule of faith, there could have been no occasion to appeal to apostolic churches or to councils to ascertain the evangelical or apostolical traditions.  It would have been simpler to appeal to the written word itself.  The reason of the council, as its purpose, was to collect by the testimony of the pastors of the several churches what was the tradition that was handed over to each by its apostolic founder, and which it had preserved.  By ascertaining thus by the testimony of each the traditions common to them all, the controversy was settled.  The frequency of councils in the early ages proves that during those ages, at least, Christians did not adopt the Protestant rule of faith, and that they were by no means Protestants.  The pretense of the reformers that they were restoring primitive Christianity, primitive faith and usage, is to be taken as a pretense only.]  But two facts are conceded in the passage: first, that the church for a hundred years or more had only unwritten tradition or the oral instructions of its pastors as its rule of faith; and, second, that the written and the unwritten traditions of the word were deemed of equal authority by the wisest and best of the fathers, and were not as to their authority distinguished, at least not sharply distinguished, before the rise of Protestantism.  The professor, then, must prove that the whole church was wrong prior to Luther in recognizing the authority of the unwritten traditions before he can assert that the Scriptures contain all of the revealed word extant, or maintain the completeness or sufficiency of the Scriptures as the rule of faith.  How will he do it, after conceding that they do not contain the whole revelation that was made, nor even the whole extant in the opinion of the church or the great body of Christians prior to the rise of Protestantism?  Does the written word anywhere declare its own completeness or sufficiency, and that the portions not recorded are of no importance?

But the difficulties of Protestantism do not end even here.  The Bible is no rule of faith except in its true sense, or as rightly interpreted according to the meaning of the Holy Ghost.  The author says (p. 183), “The Bible is a plain book.  It is intelligible by the people.  And they have the right and are bound to read and interpret it for themselves, so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures, and not on that of the church.  Such is the doctrine of Protestants on this subject.”

But is it true?  If so, how happens it that among Protestants we can hardly find two, when left to themselves, without any parental or pastoral instruction, who agree in their interpretation of the written word, or as to the doctrines to be deduced from it?  Yet the author himself can hardly believe what he asserts to be the Protestant doctrine on the subject is true.  “It is not denied,” he adds (pp. 183, 184), “that the Scriptures contain many things that are hard to be understood; that they require diligent study; that all men need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to a right knowledge and a true faith.  But it is maintained that in all things necessary to salvation they are sufficiently plain to be understood even by the unlearned.”  What!  even by those who are unable to understand a word of the language in which the Scriptures were written, and must depend on the fidelity of translations made by fallible men, and vouched for by no infallible authority?  By those who do not know how to read at all in any language?  Then how does the professor know what things are or are not necessary to salvation?  That the things necessary to the right apprehension of the mysteries of the faith are not contained in those very parts of Scripture which are hard to be understood, or that the proper explanation of those parts is not necessary to the proper understanding of the other parts, which he judges to be intelligible even to the unlearned?  The author here must either borrow from the Catholic rule, which condemns his Protestantism, or else admit that he has no satisfactory answer to give to these kindred questions.

But all these questions are quite unnecessary, for the author obligingly refutes his own rule of faith, and acknowledges that the Scriptures interpreted by private judgment or by human reason itself are not sufficient to give a “right knowledge of the true faith.”  Neither learning nor diligent study, nor the perspicuity of Scripture, suffices; for “all men,” he says, “need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to  a right knowledge of the true faith.”  This is conclusive against the Protestant rule, and confesses that no man can arrive at the knowledge of the true faith without the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit.  Let us hear no more, then, of the Scriptures interpreted by private judgment, or of the ability or the right of every individual to read and interpret the Scriptures for himself and to form from them his own creed.

It is worthy of remark here that our Protestant professor is obliged throughout to adopt the principle of the Catholic rule of faith, only he applies it differently.  The Catholic asserts the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals by virtue of the assistance or guidance of the Holy Spirit; the Protestant professor claims the same infallibility, by virtue of the same supernatural assistance, for each one of the people of God taken individually.  But the pope is a public personage, all the world knows or may know who he is, and can recur to him, and, supposing him to be assisted as claimed, all the world may know from him the true faith; but in the Protestant sense there is no public means of knowing who the people of God are, and, consequently, no public means of knowing what the Spirit teaches, or whom he guides or assists to a knowledge of the true faith, since he guides or assists only private individuals, not a public personage or a public body.  It can be no public rule of faith, and, as we have shown, none for the individual himself, for he has no objective and independent rule for determining whether the spirit that leads him is the spirit of truth or the spirit of error.  The professor has refuted his own doctrine in his refutation of the Quaker rule of faith.  The interior illumination, he asserts, is private, and can be brought to no public or catholic test.  Not the church, both because the church the Protestant recognizes is invisible, and recognizable by no external marks or notes, and because the church, according to him, has no teaching authority of faculty.  Not to the Scriptures, because it is the test of the right understanding of them that is required, and to take them as the test of this is to reason in a vicious circle.

Protestants, historically considered, arrived at their rule through Protestantism, not at Protestantism through the application of their rule, and the fact is, they cannot logically assert their rule till they have proved or obtained aliunde their Protestantism.  They are obliged to prove their Protestantism in order to prove their rule, and they must prove their rule in order to prove their Protestantism.  This is a grave inconvenience.  But, assuming without proof that the Scriptures are the sufficient and only rule of faith, they conclude, against undeniable facts, that the Bible is a plain book, and intelligible to the people, even to the unlearned, and it should be if intended by its divine author to be the sufficient and only rule of faith.  They find their conclusion untenable, and modify their statement, and say that their conclusion is true as to all things necessary to salvation.  But, finding no agreement among Protestants themselves who take the Bible as their sufficient and only rule of faith as to what things are necessary to salvation, they divide.

One class declares more or less distinctly that no objective faith is necessary to salvation, and another class in which is included our author, asserts, while maintaining the right of private judgment, the private illumination of the Holy Ghost as the rule for interpreting the Scriptures, apparently not perceiving that they are in flagrant contradiction with themselves.

The professor objects (p. 127) to tradition as the rule of faith that it is not adapted to that purpose: “A rule of faith to the people must be something they can apply; a standard by which they can judge.  But the unwritten tradition is not contained in any one volume accessible to the people and intelligible by them.”  This were a valid objection, if the people had to seek through all history to find and verify the tradition; but is no objection at all, if we suppose an infallible teacher, always present, who preserves and applies the tradition for the people.  But does the Protestant escape his own objection by rejecting all unwritten tradition, and making the Bible alone the rule of faith, which is at least as unintelligible to the people as is unwritten tradition explained and applied by duly authorized preachers of the word?

That the Bible ought, on Protestant principles, to be a plain book, interpreting itself to every person of ordinary sense, or who has enough sense to be a moral agent, we concede, and Protestants should actually derive their doctrines from it.  But nobody knows better than our author that neither is a fact.  He knows that the Protestant people, however much they may read and praise the Bible, do not form their own opinions from it, but from their pastors or teachers, or the community in which they are brought up.  He knows, also, that the people could never of themselves derive even the doctrines which he holds to be essential and necessary to salvation from reading the Bible alone.  Unitarians and Universalists deny that the Bible teaches them, and the people, as a matter of fact, take them from the tradition of their sect, and at best only find confirmation of them in the Scriptures; and yet such are the exigencies of Protestantism that the ablest and most learned Protestant professors are obliged, in the face of these facts, to say with Chillingworth, “The Bible, the Bible alone, is the religion of Protestants.”

But Protestants should bear in mind that Catholics have the Bible as well as they – had it ages before Protestantism was ever heard of, and that it was from Catholics that they obtained it – strictly speaking, from the church stole it.  How, then, can it be their religion any more than it is the religion of Catholics?  Catholics, if they have not admitted it to contain the whole revealed word, have always held it, before Protestantism and since, to be divinely inspired, and, as far as it goes, the infallible word of God.  They have always held that all Christians are bound to believe whatever it teaches, and forbidden to believe any thing that contradicts it.  This is all that Protestantism can really say.  The church contends that in no respect does her doctrine conflict with the written word, and is in most respects, if not in all, positively sustained by it.  Suppose her as fallible as Protestants confess themselves to be, what can Protestants have in the Bible that Catholics have not?  Or what have they from any source that can override the Catholic understanding of the Scriptures, or authorize them to say that it is a misunderstanding?  Catholics may have more than Protestants, but in no case have they or can they have less.  By what rule or standard, then, do Protestants judge the Catholic understanding of the Scriptures to be false and the Protestant understanding to be true?  Private judgment is no rule, and, if it were, Catholics have private judgment as well as Protestants; they have, too, reason, Biblical, historical, and all other sorts of learning, as well as they, and, at least, in as eminent a degree.  By what rule or standard of judgment, then, is Protestantism to be pronounced more Biblical than is Catholicity?

The professor says: “The people have the right of private judgment, and are bound to read and interpret the Bible for themselves.”  In matters left to private judgment, in regard to which there is no public or catholic rule, be it so.  But, when the people have a public or catholic rule, they are bound to judge by it, and the right of private judgment ceases.  Protestants either have such a rule or they have not.  If they have, they are bound to judge by it, and have no right of private judgment in the case.  If they have not, then they have no rule or standard by which to judge, no rule of faith, and that ends the matter.  We beg the professor to understand that all this Protestant rationalistic talk about private judgment is mere moonshine.  He may allow it against what he calls “Romanism,” but he by no means allows it against what he holds to be the word of God.  As for the people being bound to read or interpret the Bible for themselves, it is sufficient to ask what would become of the professor’s own vocation if it were so?  Were the people who loved before the New Testament was written, or its several books collected into a volume as the rule of faith, bound to read and understand it for themselves?  Are those bound to read and interpret the Bible for themselves who know not even how to read?  These are reckoned to be at least nineteen-twentieths of mankind; shall they receive no religious instructions till they have learned to read?  What shall we say of those who – and they are the bulk of mankind – obliged to toil incessantly to sustain their bodily existence, have no time to learn to read, much less to study diligently the sacred Scriptures, even if they could read?  What are we to say of children who are too young to read and understand the Bible for themselves, and yet are old enough to sin?  Can these all be saved without the knowledge of the truth?  Or are they excluded by an inexorable decree and no fault of their own from salvation?  The fact is, Protestants, whatever the fuss they make about the Scriptures and private judgment, adopt, in practice, as their rule of faith, the Bible interpreted by the learned, or those they hold to be learned, the rule Dr. Dollinger would force the church to adopt.  Catholics are not more dependent on the church than Protestants are on their pastors.  But as their doctors cannot agree among themselves, they have no resource but to divide with their doctors, and divide they do, each division following its favorite doctor, and founding with him a new sect, which allows no private judgment against itself.  Even Unitarians, who believe hardly anything, tolerate private judgment only when it makes for them, and are as intolerant of those who deny any thing they hold to be essential as an Old or New School Presbyterian.  The worst of it is that, while Protestants yield a slavish submission to their ministers, they deny that their ministers have any authority from God either to teach or to govern them, and, like the old carnal Jews, boast that they are free and in bondage to no man.  The most degrading and debasing slavery into which mortals can be plunged is that of Protestants to their favorite ministers, unless it be that of the heathen to their idols or false gods.

But we are exceeding our limits.  We have said enough, we think, to show that Protestants have no independent rule of faith – independent of the Catholic Church, we mean.  In so far as they hold Christian truth or positive faith at all, they hold it on the authority of the Catholic rule, which they reject; and when deprived of what they stole from us, and to which they have no right, they have nothing to prevent them from running into pure rationalism on the one hand, or into mysticism and transcendentalism on the other.  The germs of both were in the original Protestant movement, and may be easily detected even in our Princeton professor.  Into one or the other he must run, if he ever gets out of the vicious circle in which Protestantism, pretending to be Christian, necessarily gyrates, unless the grace of God relieves him and enables him to return to the bosom of the Catholic Church, where alone he will find true freedom and truth in its unity and integrity.