JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

An Appendix on Protestant Errors.

361. Protestantism is not a religion, a certain system of doctrine and worship, but an aggregation of different religions. All its varieties have originated in separation from the Catholic Church or from a branch formerly cut off; and therefore they are properly called sects, (secta, things cut off); while this name is not applicable to the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

The name Protestant, common to all these sects, is really a negative term, denoting their refusal to admit the teaching authority of the ancient Church. They have scarcely one positive doctrine in common, except those which natural reason teaches, and which, therefore, Jews and Gentiles may admit as well as they; such as the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, future rewards and punishments, etc. They believe, indeed, that Christ existed on earth; but even an Atheist may believe the same as an historical fact. They accept the Bible as a precious volume; but many, especially since the late rise of so-called Higher Criticism, do not believe it to be in any true sense the word of God.

Perhaps the only revealed doctrine common to all the Protestant sects is that Christ was, in some sense or other, the Saviour of mankind; yet some of them do not admit that they are saved by His death, but only by the extraordinary wisdom of His teachings and the admirable example of His life (nn. 197-200).

While no positive doctrines are common to all Protestants, certain radical errors are peculiar to those sects which have been chiefly influenced by Luther, others to the followers of Calvin, etc. (n. 214). We shall here present a brief sketch of the principal denominations and their respective tenets, especially of such as have many members in the United States.

I. Luther built up a system of his own; he produced an organism of error, which, like a cancerous growth, struck its roots deep into the body of the old Catholic doctrine. The germ of it was a misconception of the effects produced by Adam's sin on himself and his posterity, and of the manner in which these effects are removed by the merits of Christ. He taught that sanctifying grace was originally a part of human nature, and that therefore the loss of it by the sin of Adam, utterly corrupted our nature itself. It so perverted man's will, he maintained, as to make it ever tend to evil, and this tendency was sin (nn. 174-181). Justification did not remove original sin, nor infuse sanctifying grace into the soul; but it simply consisted in this, that when the sinner made an act of faith in the remission of his sins, that is, when he firmly believed that his sins were pardoned, he obtained pardon of them; the sins were not removed, but they were no longer imputed to him, for they were covered with the cloak of Christ's merits (nn. 217-221). Melanchton thought that in making this act of faith, men co-operated with the grace of God; but the "Form of Concord", which was adopted by the Lutherans as the standard of orthodoxy, condemned this view, and declared that the will of fallen man could do no good for salvation (n. 212); for that "original sin is . . . . a most profound, inscrutable, and unutterable corruption of our whole nature and of all its powers" (Hodge's Syst. Theol., II, p. 228). Most of the later Lutheran theologians have abandoned this extreme view of human perversion.

From Luther's radical error, many others follow as logical consequences. In particular

1. The special faith which saves man is not a mental acceptance of authoritative teaching (n. 118).

2. Justification can be lost, but only by losing faith in one's pardon.

3. All souls remain sinful forever, and all believers are equal in sanctity; for their sanctity is only the imputation to them of the merits of Christ. Hence there are really no Saints on earth nor in heaven. Therefore, there should be no veneration of Saints, nor of their relics and images (n. 312).

4. There is no difference between venial and mortal sin (n. 311).

5. There is no need of good works to secure eternal salvation (n. 222).

6. No use of penance or expiation; no indulgences, no Purgatory (n. 284).

7. Celibacy and religious vows are abuses (n. 315).

8. The perverted will has not the power to choose what is good; it is not a free, but a slave will. Hence every wilful act of man is a sin, though it is not imputed to him if he has the faith (nn. 187, 208, 209).

9. There is no efficacy in the Sacraments to confer or increase sanctifying grace; they are only signs of God's favor, and confirm the faith of the recipient (nn. 227, 234).

10. No power is conferred by Holy Orders; there is no priesthood, no Sacrifice of the Mass; preachers were induced into office by temporal princes. A bitter war was declared against the hierarchy, the religious, and especially against the head of the Catholic Church (nn. 265-268).

11. As there were no priests, so there was no "transsubstantiation", nor any permanent presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist; yet the Body of Christ was made present in the act of receiving Holy Communion (n. 248). It was substantially present then, "in, under, and with the substance of the bread"; this mode of presence was called "consubstantiation". The same held for the Sacred Blood and the wine; for Communion was to be received under both species (n. 246).

12. There being no hierarchy, the Church was conceived by Luther as "the congregation of the saints in which the Gospel is preached rightly and the Sacraments are rightly administered" (nn. 67, 77).

13. To maintain this body of errors, Luther gradually found it necessary to reject the authority of all the Fathers, Doctors and ancient writers of the Church, and to teach the sufficiency of the Scriptures as the complete rule of faith, the Holy Ghost enlightening every reader to understand the Bible rightly (n. 65).

Luther had begun his rebellion in 1517; it is remarkable that as late as 1529, in the conference with Zwingli at Marburg, he made the following declaration: "We must confess that in the Papacy are the truths of salvation, which we have inherited. We also acknowledge that in the Papacy we find the true Scripture, the true Baptism, the true Sacrament of the Altar, the true Keys for the remission of sins, the true office of preaching, the true Catechism which contains the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the articles of faith. I say that in the Papacy we find the true Christianity, the true essence of Christianity" (Birkhaeuser's Hist. of the Church, p. 549). The Lutherans are now divided into various branches. In the United States, there are four regular bodies of them and fifteen independent Synods, comprising a total membership of 1,600,000 communicants. But the errors of Luther have infected nearly all the Protestant sects.

II. Calvin explains his own peculiar system in his "Institutes" (Institutio Religionis Christianae). He agrees with Luther in considering fallen man as utterly destitute of goodness, as a seed-bed of sin, which cannot but be an abomination to God; and he maintains in general the logical consequences which Luther drew from his radical error. But he adds to these his characteristic dogma that God fore-ordains some men to everlasting life, and others to everlasting punishment, independently of the free choice of the condemned; for they have no free choice. Those predestined to bliss receive gratuitously the faith, that is, the firm conviction that they are thus predestined, as a pledge that they are so (nn. 97, 221). They cannot fall from grace. Calvin rejected all the Sacraments, except Baptism and the Lord's Supper; these were seals of God's promises, strengthening the faith of the elect (n. 227). He disagreed with Luther on the Holy Eucharist, which he believed to be a mere memorial of Christ (nn. 244, 245), yet so that the Body of Christ, which is in Heaven, and not in or with the bread, in an inexplicable manner sanctified the recipient. The controversy on this subject between Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and other Reformers, was long and exceedingly violent. We shall see that many of the sects derived their leading doctrines from Calvin, especially that of predestination (nn. 214, 215).

III. The Baptists. If salvation is obtained by faith in one's justification, as Luther taught, or in one's predestination, as Calvin maintained, then Baptism without such faith was of no avail. And as infants cannot have such faith, it followed that the Baptism of infants was utterly worthless (n. 230). This rejection of infant Baptism became the rallying cry of a very turbulent sect of Protestants in Luther's time, who were called Anabaptists (baptizing over), or Antipaedobaptists (opposed to the Baptism of children). These took arms and so violently ravaged large parts of Germany, as utterly to disgrace the Reformation. Since they had become universally odious, their co-religionists afterward took the name of Baptists. These claim to have some 4,000,000 members in the United States, and half a million in Europe.

Their principles are in the main those of Calvin. They acknowledge no founder, but pretend to trace back their origin through the Waldenses (n. 106) of the Middle Ages, the Montanists and the Novatians of the early Church, and through heretical sects generally, to the time of the Apostles. Their Baptism is by immersion (n. 237). Two branches of the sect, the "Free Baptists", and the "General Baptists", have rejected Calvin's unconditional predestination. They also practise open communion, in opposition to the "close communion" of the regular Baptists, who admit none but those immersed to communion at the Lord's Table.

Roger Williams is thought to have established the first Baptist church in the New World. Little education being here required to make a Baptist preacher, the sect spread rapidly, especially among the colored people.

The Seventh-day Baptists, or Sabbatarians, differ from the regular Baptists in one point: they wish to substitute the Saturday for the Sunday as the weekly day of worship.

IV. The Episcopalians. Henry VIII. to effect his adulterous marriage with Anne Boleyn, cut off the English nation from communion with Rome, and made himself the "Supreme Head of the English Church and Clergy". He did not change the ancient doctrine in other respects; on the contrary, he caused Parliament to enact the "Statute of the Six Articles", which condemned the leading errors of the Reformers. But during the minority of Edward VI, Archbishop Cramner introduced these errors into England. He drew up "Forty-Two Articles" of religion, which were a mixture of Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinistic teachings. Under Elizabeth, in 1562, the Convocation promulgated most of these, under the name of the "Thirty-Nine Articles", as the profession of faith of the Established Church. These Articles admit the Creeds of the Apostles, of Nice, and of St. Athanasius, but reject the doctrines of Purgatory, transubstantiation, invocation of the Saints, the veneration of images and relics, and all the Sacraments except Baptism and the Euchiarist (n. 209). They require belief in Luther's Justification by faith alone, and in the sufficiency of the Scriptures; and they enact that the English Sovereign has supreme authority over all ecclesiastical persons, and in all Church causes, within his or her dominion. This subjection of the Church to temporal power is called "Erastianism".

Government by Bishops and pastors was retained in the English Church, but the priestly and episcopal character and powers were destroyed. For the Ordinal of Edward VI, confirmed by Parliament under Elizabeth, so changed the form of Holy Orders as to exclude the conferring of priestly and episcopal powers on the recipients (n. 270). To remedy this defect, the Convocation improved the form in 1662, a century too late to save Anglican Orders. Though the clergy of the English Church are required to swear to the Thirty-Nine Articles, still the greatest license prevails in the interpretation of their meaning. (See also n. 231.)

The High Church party insists on the authority of the Bishops and priests, the efficacy of the Sacraments, the necessity of Apostolic succession. The Tractarian Movement, begun at Oxford in 1833, by scholars conspicuous for learning and virtue, has brought that party into great prominence. They earnestly protested against Erastianism, and adopted many doctrines and practices discarded at the Reformation. This has smoothed the way for the return of many among their leaders into the fold of the ancient Church. The Low Church party think little of the Sacraments, deny that regeneration necessarily takes place in Baptism, and consider the retention of the episcopacy as a mere matter of expediency. Many of them believe in Calvin's antecedent predestination. The Broad Church holds an intermediate position between these two parties, advocating great liberty and toleration of doctrines and forms within the same communion.

"The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America" is an offshoot from the English Church, with which it holds communion in doctrine, discipline, and worship; but it is independent of it in authority. It has omitted the Athanasian Creed from its Prayer Book, and adopted in great measure the Scottish communion service. It equalizes all the dioceses at the general convention, allowing each a representation of four clerical and four lay delegates. As far as religious opinions are concerned, it has deservedly been called "the roomiest Church in America". It claims a membership of about 600,000, most of whom are found in our largest cities.

V. The Presbyterians. The undue influence of crown and nobles in conferring ecclesiastical benefices had greatly demoralized the clergy in Scotland. This evil enabled the Reformers to decry the Church, and to force upon a reluctant sovereign the suppression of the monasteries. Greatly enriched by the confiscation of these, the barons kept on agitating for the entire suppression of the Catholic Church in the kingdom. John Knox, one of the most violent partisans of those turbulent times, put himself at the head of the movement. He defined the Roman Church as "the last beast" of the Apocalypse, and the Pope as "the man of sin", "the antichrist". Compelled to fly to Geneva, he there fell under the influence of Calvin, whose chief doctrine he afterwards forced upon the Scottish people, especially the error of unconditional predestination. Returned to Scotland, he led the mob in destroying images, altars, and abbeys, and in rifling and defacing the churches. The celebration of Holy Mass and all communication with the Supreme Pontiff were strictly forbidden. He would have abolished the episcopacy, but that he yielded to King James, who valued the Bishops as supports to the throne; besides, their rich revenues were a powerful aid to propagate and retain the Reform. However, in 1580, the General Assembly condemned episcopacy, and established the presbyterian policy as it now exists in Scotland. It consists of a system of church courts and assemblies, one above another, and each strengthened by a lay representation, constituting kirk-sessions, presbyteries, synods, and the General Assembly. The Kirk was exalted above the throne.

The germ of presbyterianism was carried into England from the continent soon after the Reformation had begun, and was later developed there by Scotch, Dutch, and French immigration. From England and Scotland it spread into Ireland, and from all those countries into the United States. In England the Westminster Assembly, in 1646, presented to Parliamant "the Westminster Confession of Faith", containing a rigid embodiment of Calvinistic theology, and providing for presbyterian church government.

In the United States the Presbyterians are divided into twelve distinct sects, agreeing in the main on the Calvinistic theology of the Scottish Kirk. Their aggregate number of members is about 1,500,000. They have now been discussing for several years the expediency of revising their profession of faith, to bring it more into conformity with modern thought and sentiment. The advocates of this most desirable reform have at last succeeded in removing from their Profession of Faith its most offensive tenets.

VI. The Methodists originated, about A. D. 1729, in an association of students of Oxford who were intent on cultivating piety, and opposing the high tide of immorality and infidelity then devastating the Church of England. From the name of their leader, John Wesley, they were called Westeyans. They adopted the principles of the Dutch Reformer Arminius (nn. 181, 215), who had labored hard to remove from Calvinism its most shocking features, especially the doctrine of unconditional predestination. Their profession of aiming at interior sanctification and outward orderly and decorous conduct gave them the name of Methodists. Their doctrine is defined in "Twenty-five Articles", nearly all taken by Wesley from the Thirty-nine Articles of the English Church. Their peculiar error is the doctrine of "assurance", or the "witness of the Spirit", who "works upon the soul by His immediate influence, and by a strong though inexplicable operation". Justification is by faith alone; still "all saints may by faith be filled with the love of God aIld be controlled in entire harmony with love". It is evident that such doctrines of private enlightenment foster a spirit of pride and self-sufficiency, diametrically opposed to the humility of submission to a teaching authority.

Most of the Methodists in the United States have retained the episcopacy. "The Methodist Episcopal Church" is the oldest and largest of their divisions here, and claims a membership of 2,700,000 communicants; and the "Methodist Episcopal Church" claims about 1,500,000. All the seventeen sects of Methodists together in this country amount to six millions, a very large proportion of whom belong to the colored race.

VII. The Congregationalists. The name designates those Protestants who admit no higher religious authority on earth than that of each congregation. They hold substantially the doctrines of the Westminster Confession and of the Thirty-nine Articles. Oliver Cromwell, who belonged to their sect, gave them great power during the Commonwealth. But after the Restoration the persecution was for a while turned against them by the English Establishment.

As they are called Congreqationatists from their system of government, so they are styled Puritans from their pretension to hold the doctrines of the Scriptures pure from all traditional teachings and practices. But the name Puritan is not confined to them; it has been applied to all Protestants who claim to reject what was not taught in the Bible. Many of these remained members of the English Church, others were Presbyterians or sectarians of various bodies. All these gratuitously assume that no doctrines were taught or practised by the Apostles but such as are inculcated in the written word of God. Some Puritans had settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621; the main body remained in England; after losing their power there, these too fled in great numbers, chiefly to America, where they colonized New England. No where did their spirit prevail more than in Massachusetts. The Congregationalists now number 600,000 members in the United States. They make use of Conferences and Consociations for the sake of mutual counsel; but they acknowledge no authority in such assemblies.

VIII. The minor Protestant sects in this country are many. Among the more numerous bodies of them are the Mennonites, of whom there are twelve varieties, with a total membership of 50,000. This sect grew out of the Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century. They pretend to great simplicity of life and worship, and often live in separate communities. They object to infant-baptism, to oaths, to military service, and to theological learning.

The Adventists make the second personal coming of Christ a special feature of their doctrine. Their six varieties in the United States comprise about 80,000 communicants.

The Plymouth Brethren teach the near coming of Christ, and the Millenium; they protest against clerical ordinations as contrary to the priesthood of all the faithful, and they practise immersion in Baptism.

The Society of Friends, better known as Quakers, was founded in England by George Fox, about the year 1650. William Penn colonized them in Pensylvania. They reject a paid ministry, their principal doctrine being that of "the light of Christ in man", which makes ministers needless. They administer no Sacraments; and they condemn war and the taking of oaths. Their four divisions here count about 118,000 adherents. The name "Quaker" was first given them to deride their emotional manifestations of contrition, but it is no longer considered as opprobrious.

The Unitarians deny the Blessed Trinity (nn. 141-143), acknowledging the Father alone as God; the Holy Ghost is not admitted to be a Person, but a Divine influence; and Christ is believed to have been a mere man but conceived of the Holy Spirit (n. 144); yet He is a proper object of worship, as being sanctified by the Father, and exalted above all other creatures. Their doctrine has undergone so many changes, and is still so unsettled, that it is not easy to delineate. In general we may say that they are rather rationalists than Christian believers, and that they reject the entire orthodox scheme. In particular, besides denying the Holy Trinity and the consubstantiality of Christ with the Father, they reject original sin (n. 178), the vicarious atonement (n. 197); and, with the Universalists, they deny eternal punishment (n. 282). Their system of government is congregational; their membership about 75,000 (nn. 143, 144).

The Universalists too are little more than rationalists. Their distinctive tenet is that all sinful beings will ultimately be pardoned and brought back to God through the irresistible efficacy of His love, manifested and applied through Christ (n. 282). Most of them agree with the Unitarians in rejecting the standard doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and generally all such teachings as are not derived from human reason. The Universalists are of American origin; without rapidly increasing their professed membership, they are spreading their rationalistic spirit to countless numbers of the other Protestant sects.


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