Now there are two chief heads of objection made against the Catholic or Church system of doctrine and worship,—external and internal. It is said, on the one hand, to be uncertain, not only what is in Scripture, but what is in Antiquity, and what not; for the early Fathers, it is objected, who are supposed to convey the information, contradict each other; and the most valuable and voluminous of them did not live till two or three hundred years after St. John's death, while the earlier records are scanty; and moreover that their view of doctrine was from the first corrupted from assignable external sources, pagan, philosophical, or Jewish. And on the other hand, the system itself may be accused of being contrary to reason and incredible. Here I shall consider the former of these two objections.

Objectors, then, speak thus: "We are far from denying," they say, "that there is truth and value in the ancient Catholic system, as reported by the Fathers; but we deny that it is unmixed truth. We consider it is truth and error mixed together: we do not see why the system of doctrine must be taken together as a whole, so that if one part is true, all is true. We consider that we have a right to take it piecemeal, and examine each part by itself; that so far as it is true, it is true not as belonging to the ancient system, but for other reasons, as being agreeable to our reason, or to our understanding of Scripture, not because stated by the Fathers; and, after all, the Church system in question (that is, such doctrines as the mystical power of the Sacraments, the power of the keys, the grace of Ordination, the gifts of the Church, and the Apostolical Succession), has very little authority really primitive. The Fathers whose works we have, not only ought to be of an earlier date, in order to be of authority, but they contradict each other; they declare what is incredible and absurd, and what can reasonably be ascribed to Platonism, or Judaism, or Paganism."

Be it so: well, how will the same captious spirit treat the sacred Canon? in just the same way. It will begin thus:—"These many writings are put together in one book; what makes them one? who put them together? the printer. The books of Scripture have been printed together for many centuries. But that does not make them one; what authority had those who put them together to do so? what authority to put just so many books, neither more nor less? when were they first so put together? on what authority do we leave out the Wisdom, or the Son of Sirach, and insert the book of Esther? Catalogues certainly are given of these books in early times: but not exactly the same books are enumerated in all. The language of St. Austin is favourable to the admission of the Apocrypha. The Latin Church anciently left out the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Eastern Church left out the book of Revelation. This so-called Canon did not exist at earliest till the fourth century, between two and three hundred years after St. John's death. Let us then see into the matter with our own eyes. Why should not we be as good judges as the Church of the fourth century, on whose authority we receive it? Why should one book be divine, because another is?" This is what objectors would say. Now to follow them into particulars {204} as far as the first head; viz., as to the evidence itself, which is offered in behalf of the divinity and inspiration of the separate books.

For instance; the first Father who expressly mentions Commemorations for the Dead in Christ (such as we still have in substance at the end of the prayer for the Church Militant, where it was happily restored in 1662, having been omitted a century earlier), is Tertullian, about a hundred years after St. John's death. This, it is said, is not authority early enough to prove that that Ordinance is Apostolical, though succeeding Fathers, Origen, St. Cyprian, Eusebius, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, etc., bear witness to it ever so strongly. "Errors might have crept in by that time; mistakes might have been made; Tertullian is but one man, and confessedly not sound in many of his opinions; we ought to have clearer and more decisive evidence." Well, supposing it: suppose Tertullian, a hundred years after St. John, is the first that mentions it, yet Tertullian is also the first who refers to St. Paul's Epistle to Philemon, and even he without quoting or naming it. He is followed by two writers; one of Rome, Caius, whose work is not extant, but is referred to by Eusebius, who, speaking of thirteen Epistles of St. Paul, and as excluding the Hebrews, by implication includes that to Philemon; and the other, Origen, who quotes the fourteenth verse of the Epistle, and elsewhere speaks of fourteenEpistles of St. Paul. Next, at the end of the third century, follows Eusebius. Further, St. Jerome observes, that in his time some persons doubted whether it was St. Paul's (just as Aerius about that time questioned the Commemorations for the Dead), or at least whether it was canonical, and that from internal evidence; to which he opposes the general consent of external testimony as a sufficient answer. Now, I ask, why do we receive the Epistle to Philemon as St. Paul's, and not the Commemorations for the faithful departed as Apostolical also? Ever after indeed the date of St. Jerome, the Epistle to Philemon was accounted St. Paul's, and so too ever after the same date the Commemorations which I have spoken of are acknowledged on all hands to have been observed as a religious duty, down to three hundred years ago. If it be said that from historical records we have good reasons for thinking that the Epistle of St. Paul to Philemon, with his other Epistles, was read from time immemorial in Church, which is a witness independent of particular testimonies in the Fathers, I answer, no evidence can be more satisfactory and conclusive to a well-judging mind; but then it is a moral evidence, resting on very little formal and producible proof; and quite as much evidence can be given for the solemn Commemorations of the Dead in the Holy Eucharist which I speak of. They too were in use in the Church from time immemorial. Persons, then, who have the heart to give up and annul the Ordinance, will not, if they are consistent, scruple much at the Epistle. If in the sixteenth century the innovators on religion had struck the Epistle to Philemon out of Scripture, they would have had just as much right to do it as to abolish these Commemorations; and those who wished to defend such innovation as regards the Epistle to Philemon, would have had just as much to say in its behalf as those had who put an end to the Commemorations.

If it be said they found nothing on the subject of such Commemorations in Scripture, even granting this for argument's sake, yet I wonder where they found in Scripture that the Epistle to Philemon was written by St. Paul, except indeed in the Epistle itself. Nowhere; yet {206} they kept the one, they abolished the other—as far, that is, as human tyranny could abolish it. Let us be thankful that they did not also say, "The Epistle to Philemon is of a private nature, and has no marks of inspiration about it. It is not mentioned by name or quoted by any writer till Origen, who flourished at a time when mistakes had begun, in the third century, and who actually thinks St. Barnabas wrote the Epistle which goes under his name; and he too, after all, just mentions it once, but not as inspired or canonical, and also just happens to speak elsewhere of St. Paul's fourteen Epistles. In the beginning of the fourth century, Eusebius, without anywhere naming this Epistle," (as far as I can discover,) "also speaks of fourteen Epistles, and speaks of a writer one hundred years earlier, who in like manner enumerated thirteen besides the Hebrews. All this is very unsatisfactory. We will have nothing but the pure word of God; we will only admit what has the clearest proof. It is impossible that God should require us to believe a book to come from Him without authenticating it with the highest and most cogent evidence."

Again: the early Church with one voice testifies in favour of Episcopacy, as an ordinance especially pleasing to God. Ignatius, the very disciple of the Apostles, speaks in the clearest and strongest terms; and those who follow fully corroborate his statements for three or four hundred years. And besides this, we know the fact, that a succession of Bishops from the Apostles did exist in all the Churches all that time. At the end of that time, one Father, St. Jerome, in writing controversially, had some strong expressions against the divine origin of the ordinance. And this is all that can be said in favour of any other regimen. Now, on the other hand, what is the case as regards the Epistle to the Hebrews? Though received in the East, it was not received in the Latin Churches, till that same St. Jerome's time. St. Irenæus either does not affirm or actually denies that it is St. Paul's. Tertullian ascribes it to St. Barnabas. Caius excluded it from his list. St. Hippolytus does not receive it. St. Cyprian is silent about it. It is doubtful whether St. Optatus received it. Now, that this important Epistle is part of the inspired word of God, there is no doubt. But why? Because the testimony of the fourth and fifth centuries, when Christians were at leisure to examine the question thoroughly, is altogether in its favour. I know of no other reason, and I consider this to be quite sufficient: but with what consistency do persons receive this Epistle as inspired, yet deny that Episcopacy is a divinely ordained means of grace?

Again: the Epistles to the Thessalonians are quoted by six writers in the first two hundred years from St. John's death; first, at the end of the first hundred, by three Fathers, Irenæus, Clement, and Tertullian; and are by implication acknowledged in the lost work of Caius, at the same time, and are in Origen's list some years after. On the other hand, the Lord's table is always called an Altar, and is called a Table only in one single passage of a single Father, during the first three centuries. It is called Altar in four out of the seven Epistles of St. Ignatius. It is called Altar by St. Clement of Rome, by St. Irenæus, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, Origen, Eusebius, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Optatus, St. Jerome, St. Chrysostom, and St. Austin. It is once called Table by St. Dionysius of Alexandria. (Johnson's U. S., vol. i., p. 306.) I do not know on what ground we admit the Epistles to the Thessalonians to be the writing of St. Paul, yet deny that the use of Altars is Apostolic.

Again: that the Eucharist is a Sacrifice is declared or implied by St. Clement of Rome, St. Paul's companion, by St. Justin, by St. Irenæus, by Tertullian, by St. Cyprian, and others. On the other hand, the Acts of the Apostles are perhaps alluded to by St. Polycarp, but are first distinctly noticed by St. Irenæus, then by three writers who came soon after (St. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and the Letter from the Church of Lyons), and then not till the end of the two hundred years from St. John's death. Which has the best evidence, the Book of Acts, or the doctrine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice?

Again: much stress, as I have said, is laid by objectors on the fact that there is so little evidence concerning Catholic doctrine in the very first years of Christianity. Now, how does this objection stand, as regards the Canon of the New Testament? The New Testament consists of twenty-seven books in all, though of varying importance. Of these, fourteen are not mentioned at all till from eighty to one hundred years after St. John's death, in which number are the Acts, the Second to the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Colossians, the Two to the Thessalonians, and St. James. Of the other thirteen, five, viz., St. John's Gospel, the Philippians, the First of Timothy, the Hebrews, and the First of John, are quoted but by one writer during the same period. Lastly, St. Irenæus, at the close of the second century, quotes all the books of the New Testament but five, and deservedly stands very high as a witness. Now, why may not so learned and holy a man, and so close on the Apostles, stand also as a witness of some doctrines which he takes for granted, as the invisible but real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, the use of Catholic tradition in ascertaining revealed truth, and the powers committed to the Church?

If men then will indulge that eclectic spirit which chooses part and rejects part of the primitive Church system, I do not see what is to keep them from choosing part and rejecting part of the Canon of Scripture.