Disputants may maintain, it they please, that religious doubt is our appropriate, our normal state; that to cherish doubts is our duty; that to complain of them is impatience; that to dread them is cowardice; that to overcome them is inveracity; that it is even a happy state, a state of calm philosophic enjoyment, to be conscious of them;—but after all, unavoidable or not, such a state is not natural, and not happy, if the voice of mankind is to decide the question. English minds, in particular, have too much of a religious temper in them, as a natural gift, to acquiesce for any long time in positive, active doubt. For doubt and devotion are incompatible with each other; every doubt, be it greater or less, stronger or weaker, involuntary as well as voluntary, acts upon devotion, so far forth, as water sprinkled, or dashed, or poured out upon a flame. Real and proper doubt kills faith, and devotion with it; and even involuntary or half-deliberate doubt, though it does not actually kill faith, goes far to kill devotion; and religion without devotion is little better than a burden, and soon becomes a superstition. Since, then, this is a day of objection and of doubt about the intellectual basis of Revealed Truth, it follows that there is a great deal of secret discomfort and distress in the religious portion of the community, the result of that general curiosity in speculation and inquiry which has been the growth among us of the last twenty or thirty years.
The people of this country, being Protestants, appeal to Scripture, when a religious question arises, as their ultimate informant and decisive authority in all such matters; but who is to decide for them the previous question, that Scripture is really such an authority? When, then, as at this time, its divine authority is the very point to be determined, that is, the character and extent of its inspiration and its component parts, then they find themselves at sea, without the means of directing their course. Doubting about the authority of Scripture, they doubt about its substantial truth; doubting about its truth, they have doubts concerning the Object which it sets before their faith, about the historical accuracy and objective reality of the picture which it presents to us of our Lord. We are not speaking of wilful doubting, but of those painful misgivings, greater or less, to which we have already referred. Religious Protestants, when they think calmly on the subject, can hardly conceal from themselves that they have a house without logical foundations, which contrives indeed for the present to stand, but which may go any day,—and where are they then?
Of course Catholics will bid them receive the canon of Scripture on the authority of the Church, in the spirit of St. Augustine's well-known words: "I should not believe the Gospel, were I not moved by the authority of the Catholic Church." But who, they ask, is to be voucher in turn for the Church, and for St. Augustine?—is it not as difficult to prove the authority of the Church and her doctors as the authority of the Scriptures? We Catholics answer, and with reason, in the negative; but, since they cannot be brought to agree with us here, what argumentative ground is open to them? Thus they seem drifting, slowly perhaps, but surely, in the direction of scepticism.