I am stating no rare or novel objection: it is one which, I suppose, all of us have felt, or perhaps still feel: it is one which, before now (I do not scruple to say), I have much felt myself, and that without being able satisfactorily to answer: and which I believe to be one of the main difficulties, and (as I think) one of the intended difficulties, which God's providence puts at this day in the path of those who seek Him, for purposes known or unknown, ascertainable or not. Nor am I at all sanguine that I shall be able, in what I have to say, to present anything like a full view of the difficulty itself, even as a phenomenon; which different minds feel differently, and do not quite recognize as their own when stated by another, and which it is difficult to bring out even according to one's own idea of it. Much less shall I be able to assign it its due place in that great Catholic system which nevertheless I hold to be true, and in which it is but a difficulty ...

One consideration alone must create an anxiety in entering on the subject I propose. It is this:—Those who commonly urge the objection which is now to be considered, viz., the want of adequate Scripture evidence for the Church creed, have, I feel sure, no right to make it; that is, they are inconsistent in making it; inasmuch as they cannot consistently find fault with a person who believes more than they do, unless they cease to believe just so much as they do believe. They ought, on their own principles, to doubt or disown much which happily they do not doubt or disown. This then is the direct, appropriate, polemical answer to them, or (as it is called) an argumentum ad hominem. "Look at home, and say, if you can, why you believe this or that, which you do believe: whatever reasons you give for your own belief in one point, this or that article, of your Creed, those parallel reasons we can give for our belief in the articles of our Creed. If you are reasonable in believing the one, we are reasonable in believing the other. Either we are reasonable, or you are not so. You ought not to stand where you are; you ought to go further one way or the other."

Now it is plain that if this be a sound argument against our assailants, it is a most convincing one; and it is obviously very hard and very unfair if we are to be deprived of the use of it. And yet a cautious mind will ever use it with anxiety; not that it is not most effective, but because it may be (as it were) too effective: it may drive the parties in question the wrong way, and make things worse instead of better. It only undertakes to show that they are inconsistent in their present opinions; and from this inconsistency it is plain they can escape, by going further either one way or the other—by adding to their creed, or by giving it up altogether. It is then what is familiarly called a kill-or-cure remedy. Certainly it is better to be inconsistent, than to be consistently wrong—to hold some truth amid error, than to hold nothing but error—to believe than to doubt. Yet when I show a man that he is inconsistent, I make him decide whether of the two he loves better, the portion of truth or the portion of error, which he already holds. If he loves the truth better, he will abandon the error; if the error, he will abandon the truth. And this is a fearful and anxious trial to put him under, and one cannot but feel loth to have recourse to it. One feels that perhaps it may be better to keep silence, and to let him, in shallowness and presumption, assail one's own position with impunity, than to retort, however justly, his weapons on himself;—better for oneself to seem a bigot, than to make him a scoffer.

 

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