I have said that the Church was indefectible in the Faith, or in the fundamentals of Revealed Religion, and that in consequence she superseded Private Judgment so far, and enforced her authoritative declarations of Christian truth; in other words, that she imposed a certain faith as a condition of communion with her, inflicting anathemas on those who denied it. Yet, I have not as yet said what that Faith is, or how we ascertain it. Here, then, a very important subject is opened upon us, which I shall consider in this and the following Lecture; viz. what are the essential doctrines of the Gospel; on determining which will depend the terms of communion, the range of Private Judgment, and the character of the Church's indefectibility. What are those points, if there are such, which all branches of the Church hold, ever have held, and ever shall hold; and which every individual must profess, in order to be considered a member of the Church?


Roman Catholics have no difficulty in answering this question. Considering the Church to be infallible, and the faith to depend on the Church, not the Church to be built on the faith, they maintain, as I have already said, that whatever the Church imposes, is fundamental and essential, be it greater or less, and that what it has once imposed, of course it cannot reverse. But we Anglo-Catholics certainly have a difficulty in the matter, as aiming at truth, as dealing with facts, with the history of 1800 years, and not framing a theory at our pleasure.

For instance, they ask us, how we determine what are the essential parts of the Gospel and what not? If we should answer, that we consider all is essential which Scripture expressly teaches, they ask in reply how we draw the line, and who is to draw it, amid the present variety of creeds, and considering the peculiar structure of the inspired Volume.

Again, if we attempt to decide antecedently what is essential and what is not, to judge, criticize, and analyze the Revelation, we fairly expose ourselves to the charge of exalting our own reason inconsistently with the very notion of faith, and with danger to its essential qualities in our minds and tempers.

Once more; if we appeal to Antiquity, which is the most advisable proceeding, then we have to determine whether all that Ancient Consent has taught is essential, and if so, how to ascertain it all; or, on the other hand, if we select a portion, we are bound to say why we select it, and pass over the rest. In consequence of these difficulties, many Protestants have taken refuge in the Latitudinarian notion that there are no essentials at all,—no orthodox faith, as it is called,—that all anathemas, all "damnatory clauses" are encroachments upon Christian liberty; and that the reception of the Bible, nay, even mere sincerity, is enough, so that we live morally and religiously. Now then let us turn to the consideration of this difficulty; in the course of which I shall have {216} the opportunity of pointing out some of the serious exceptions which lie against the Roman mode of solving it.


And, first, let it be clearly understood what is meant by the word "fundamentals" or "essentials." I do not mean by it what is "necessary to be believed for salvation by this particular person or that." No one but God can decide what compass of faith is required of given individuals. The necessary Creed varies, for what we know, with each individual to whom the Gospel is addressed; one is bound to know and believe more, or more accurately, another less. Even the minutest and most precise details of truth may have a claim upon the faith of a theologian; whereas the peasant or artisan may be accepted on a vague and rudimental faith,—which is like seeing a prospect at a distance,—such as a child has, who accepts the revealed doctrine in the letter, contemplating and embracing its meaning, not in its full force, but as far as his capacity goes. I do not then enter into the question how much is essential, and how accurately, in the case of a given individual. This is not, strictly speaking, a question of Theology; for Theology, as being a science, is ever concerned with doctrines, principles, abstract truths, not with their application.

Still, though the clearness or keenness of vision may vary in individuals, there may be some one object, some circle of sacred truths, which they one and all must see, whether faintly or distinctly, whether in its fulness or in outline, doctrines independent and external, which may be emphatically called the Gospel, which have been committed to the Church from the first, which she is bound to teach as saving, and to enforce as the terms of communion; doctrines accordingly, which are necessary in themselves for what may be called an abstract Christian, putting aside the question of more or less, of clearness or confusion,—doctrines which he must receive in their breadth and substance, in order to be accounted a Christian, and to be admitted into the Church.

It is plain, indeed, from what has led to this discussion, that to examine the state of this or that given individual would be quite beside our purpose, which is to determine merely this,—what doctrines the Church Catholic will teach indefectibly, what doctrines she must enforce as a condition of communion, what doctrines she must rescue from the scrutiny of Private Judgment; in a word, what doctrines are the foundation of the Church. The controversialists of Rome challenge us to produce them, thinking we cannot, and implying thereby that we cannot on our principles maintain a visible Church at all; for it stands to reason that a Church cannot exist even in theory without some revealed faith as its principle of life, whether that be a supernatural doctrine, or a claim to supernatural power.