Chapter 8.

{218} REDING had for near two years put aside his doubts about the Articles; but it was like putting off the payment of a bill—a respite, not a deliverance. The two conversations which we have been recording, bringing him to issue on most important subjects first with one, then with another, of two intimate friends, who were bound by the Articles as well as he, uncomfortably reminded him of his debt to the University and Church; and the nearer approach of his examination and degree inflicted on him the thought that the time was coming when he must be prepared to discharge it.

One day, when he was strolling out with Carlton, towards the end of the Vacation, he had been led to speak of the number of religious opinions and parties in Oxford, which had so many bad effects, making so many talk, so many criticise, and not a few perhaps doubt about truth altogether. Then he said that, evil as it was in a place of education, yet he feared it was unavoidable, if Carlton's doctrine about parties were correct; for if there was a place where differences of religious opinions would show themselves, it would be in a university. {219}

"I am far from denying it," said Carlton; "but all systems have their defects; no polity, no theology, no ritual is perfect. One only came directly and simply from Heaven, the Jewish; and even that was removed because of its unprofitableness. This is no derogation from the perfection of Divine Revelation, for it arises from the subject-matter on and through which it operates." There was a pause; then Carlton went on: "It is the fault of most young thinkers to be impatient, if they do not find perfection in everything; they are 'new brooms'". Another pause; he went on again: "What form of Religion is less objectionable than ours? You see the inconveniences of your own system, for you experience them; you have not felt, and cannot know, those of others."

Charles was still silent, and went on plucking and chewing leaves from the shrubs and bushes through which their path winded. At length he said, "I should not like to say it to any one but you, Carlton, but, do you know, I was very uncomfortable about the Articles, going on for two years since; I really could not understand them, and their history makes matters worse. I put the subject from me altogether; but now that my examination and degree are coming on, I must take it up again."

"You must have been put into the Article-lecture early," said Carlton.

"Well, perhaps I was not up to the subject," answered Charles.

"I didn't mean that," said Carlton; "but as to the thing itself, my dear fellow, it happens every day, and {220} especially to thoughtful people like yourself. It should not annoy you."

"But my fidget is," said Charles, "lest my difficulties should return, and I should not be able to remove them."

"You should take all these things calmly," said Carlton; "all things, as I have said, have their difficulties. If you wait till everything is as it should be or might be conceivably, you will do nothing, and will lose life. The moral and social world is not an open country; it is already marked and mapped out; it has its roads. You can't go across country; if you attempt a steeple-chase, you will break your neck for your pains. Forms of religion are facts; they have each their history. They existed before you were born, and will survive you. You must choose, you cannot make."

"I know," said Reding, "I can't make a religion, nor can I perhaps find one better than my own. I don't want to do so; but this is not my difficulty. Take your own image. I am jogging along my own old road, and lo, a high turnpike, fast locked; and my poor pony can't clear it. I don't complain; but there's the fact, or at least may be."

"The pony must," answered Carlton; "or if not there must be some way about; else what is the good of a road? In religion all roads have their obstacles; one has a strong gate across it, another goes through a bog. Is no one to go on? Is religion to be at a dead-lock? Is Christianity to die out? Where else will you go? Not surely to Methodism or Plymouth {221} brotherism. As to the Romish Church, I suspect it has more difficulties than we have. You must sacrifice your private judgment."

"All this is very good," answered Charles; "but what is very expedient still may be very impossible. The finest words about the necessity of getting home before nightfall will not enable my poor little pony to take the gate."

"Certainly not," said Carlton; "but if you had a command from a benevolent Prince, your own Sovereign and Benefactor, to go along the road steadily till evening, and he would meet you at the end of your journey, you would be quite sure that he who had appointed the end had also assigned the means. And, in the difficulty in question, you ought to look out for some mode of opening the gate, or some gap in the hedge, or some parallel cut, some way or other, which would enable you to turn the difficulty."

Charles said that somehow he did not like this mode of arguing; it seemed dangerous; he did not see whither it went, where it ended. Presently he said, abruptly, "Why do you think there are more difficulties in the Church of Rome?"

"Clearly there are," answered Carlton; "if the Articles are a crust, is not Pope Pius's Creed a bone?"

"I don't know Pope Pius's Creed," said Charles; "I know very little about the state of the case, certainly. What does it say?"

"Oh, it includes transubstantiation, purgatory, saint-worship, and the rest," said Carlton; "I suppose you could not quite subscribe these?" {222}

"It depends," answered Charles slowly, "on this—on what authority they came to me." He stopped, and then went on: "Of course I could, if they came to me on the same authority as the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity comes. Now, the Articles come on no authority; they are the views of persons in the 16th century; and, again, it is not clear how far they are, or are not, modified by the unauthoritative views of the 19th. I am obliged, then, to exercise my own judgment; and I candidly declare to you that my judgment is unequal to so great a task. At least, this is what troubles me, whenever the subject rises in my mind; for I have put it from me."

"Well, then," said Carlton, "take them on faith."

"You mean, I suppose," said Charles, "that I must consider our Church infallible."

Carlton felt the difficulty; he answered, "No, but you must act as if it were infallible, from a sense of duty".

Charles smiled; then he looked grave; he stood still, and his eyes fell. "If I am to make a Church infallible," he said, "if I must give up private judgment, if I must act on faith, there is a Church which has a greater claim on us all than the Church of England."

"My dear Reding," said Carlton, with some emotion, "where did you get these notions?"

"I don't know," answered Charles; "somebody has said that they were in the air. I have talked to no one, except one or two arguments I had with different persons in my first year. I have driven the subject from me; but when I once begin, you see it will out." {223}

They walked on awhile in silence. "Do you really mean to say," asked Carlton at length, "that it is so difficult to understand and receive the Articles? To me they are quite clear enough, and speak the language of common sense."

"Well, they seem to me," said Reding, "sometimes inconsistent with themselves, sometimes with the Prayer Book; so that I am suspicious of them; I don't know what I am signing when I sign, yet I ought to sign ex animo. A blind submission I could make; I cannot make a blind declaration."

"Give me some instances," said Carlton.

"For example," said Charles, "they distinctly receive the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith only, which the Prayer Book virtually opposes in every one of its Offices. They refer to the Homilies as authority, yet the Homilies speak of the books of the Apocrypha as inspired, which the Articles implicitly deny. The Articles about Ordination are in their spirit contrary to the Ordination Service. One Article on the Sacraments speaks the doctrine of Melancthon, another that of Calvin. One Article speaks of the Church's authority in controversies of faith, yet another makes Scripture the ultimate appeal. These are what occur to me at the moment."

"Surely many of these are but verbal difficulties, at the very first glance," said Carlton, "and all may be surmounted with a little care."

"On the other hand, it has struck me," continued Charles, "that the Church of Rome is undeniably consistent in her formularies; this is the very charge {224} some of our writers make upon her, that she is so systematic. It may be a hard, iron system, but it is consistent."

Carlton did not wish to interrupt him, thinking it best to hear his whole difficulty; so Charles proceeded: "When a system is consistent, at least it does not condemn itself. Consistency is not truth, but truth is consistency. Now, I am not a fit judge whether or not a certain system is true, but I may be quite a judge whether it is consistent with itself. When an oracle equivocates, it carries with it its own condemnation. I almost think there is something in Scripture on this subject, comparing in this respect the pagan and the inspired prophecies. And this has struck me, too, that St. Paul gives this very account of a heretic, that he is 'condemned of himself,' bearing his own condemnation on his face. Moreover, I was once in the company of Freeborn (I don't know if you are acquainted with him) and others of the Evangelical party, and they showed plainly, if they were to be trusted, that Luther and Melancthon did not agree together on the prime point of justification by faith, a circumstance which had not come into the Article-lecture. Also I have read somewhere, or heard in some sermon, that the ancient heretics always were inconsistent, never could state plainly their meaning, much less agree together; and thus, whether they would or no, could not help giving to the simple a warning of their true character, as if by their rattle."

Charles stopped; presently he continued: "This too has struck me; that either there is no prophet of the {225} truth on earth, or the Church of Rome is that prophet. That there is a prophet still, or apostle, or messenger, or teacher, or whatever he is to be called, seems evident by our believing in a visible Church. Now, common sense tells us what a messenger from God must be; first, he must not contradict himself, as I have just been saying. Again, a prophet of God can allow of no rival, but denounces all who make a separate claim, as the prophets do in Scripture. Now, it is impossible to say whether our Church acknowledges or not Lutheranism in Germany, Calvinism in Switzerland, the Nestorian and Monophysite bodies in the East. Nor does it clearly tell us what view it takes of the Church of Rome. The only place where it recognises its existence is in the Homilies, and there it speaks of it as Antichrist. Nor has the Greek Church any intelligible position in Anglican doctrine. On the other hand, the Church of Rome has this prima facie mark of a prophet, that, like a prophet in Scripture, it admits no rival, and anathematizes all doctrine counter to its own. There's another thing: a prophet of God is of course at home with his message; he is not helpless and do-nothing in the midst of errors and in the war of opinions. He knows what has been given him to declare, how far it extends; he can act as an umpire; he is equal to emergencies. This again tells in favour of the Church of Rome. As age after age comes she is ever on the alert, questions every new comer, sounds the note of alarm, hews down strange doctrine, claims and locates and perfects what is new and true. The Church of Rome inspires me with confidence; I feel I {226} can trust her. It is another thing whether she is true; I am not pretending now to decide that. But I do not feel the like trust in our own Church. I love her more than I trust her. She leaves me without faith. Now you see the state of my mind." He fetched a deep, sharp sigh, as if he had got a load off him.

"Well," said Carlton, when he had stopped, "this is all very pretty theory; whether it holds in matter of fact is another question. We have been accustomed hitherto to think Chillingworth right, when he talks of popes against popes, councils against councils, and so on. Certainly you will not be allowed by Protestant controversialists to assume this perfect consistency in Romish doctrine. The truth is, you have read very little; and you judge of truth, not by facts, but by notions; I mean, you think it enough if a notion hangs together; though you disavow it, still, in matter of fact, consistency is truth to you. Whether facts answer to theories you cannot tell, and you don't inquire. Now I am not well read in the subject, but I know enough to be sure that Romanists will have more work to prove their consistency than you anticipate. For instance, they appeal to the Fathers, yet put the Pope above them; they maintain the infallibility of the Church, and prove it by Scripture, and then they prove Scripture by the Church. They think a General Council infallible when, but not before, the Pope has ratified it; Bellarmine, I think, gives a list of General Councils which have erred. And I never have been able to make out the Romish doctrine of indulgences."

Charles thought over this; then he said: "Perhaps {227} the case is as you say, that I ought to know the matter of fact more exactly before attempting to form a judgment on the subject; but, my dear Carlton, I protest to you, and you may think with what distress I say it, that if the Church of Rome is as ambiguous as our own Church, I shall be in the way to become a sceptic, on the very ground that I shall have no competent authority to tell me what to believe. The Ethiopian said, 'How can I know, unless some man do teach me?' and St. Paul says, 'Faith cometh by hearing'. If no one claims my faith, how can I exercise it? At least I shall run the risk of becoming a Latitudinarian; for if I go by Scripture only, certainly there is no creed given us in Scripture."

"Our business," said Carlton, "is to make the best of things, not the worst. Do keep this in mind; be on your guard against a strained and morbid view of things. Be cheerful, be natural, and all will be easy."

"You are always kind and considerate," said Charles; "but, after all—I wish I could make you see it—you have not a word to say by way of meeting my original difficulty of subscription. How am I to leap over the wall? It's nothing to the purpose that other communions have their walls also."

They now neared home, and concluded their walk in silence, each being fully occupied with the thoughts which the conversation had suggested.

Chapter 2-9

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