From the Treasure Chest: “Cannot” Part I

Every once in a while, I unearth a real jewel of a find.  You may have noticed that we are reading Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies in the YIMC Book Club.  The most recent chapter is about the Protestant Reformation.  Having finished my chores on Saturday afternoon, I began trolling Google Books, like a fisherman, for new selections to add to our YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

I came across this essay, and it couldn’t be more timely.  Because not only does it tie in with our book club selection, but it also is an answer to the question Why I Am Catholic.  I’ve done a few posts in the past about how the Catholic Church is a Bible-believing Church, so this essay by Reverend G. Bampfield is a real treat.

First, a little background. I found this in a volume put out by the top-secret Catholic Truth Society. I’m joking, of course, because this being found in volume 35 of the Publications of the Catholic Truth Society means that it was hardly secret at all. Volume XXXV was published in 1898, or about a half a heart-beat ago history wise.

Who is this secret organization and who are their agents,  pray tell? I’m glad you asked. They are a Catholic charity based in the United Kingdom, and they have been getting the message out, aka evangelizing,  non-stop since 1868.  And here is the best part: you don’t have to have a Q clearance or be a 00 agent in order to read the materials they publish! Check out their Mission Statement:

The Catholic Truth Society works to develop and disseminate as widely as possible completely reliable publications about the faith, teaching and life of the Catholic Church. It is motivated by a love of Christ, a deep belief in the profound hope he brings to modern man, a love of and fidelity to the Church, and the desire to communicate these treasures both to the faithful and all other enquirers by way of inexpensive and accessible English language publications.

See? Not exactly KAOS  or SPECTRE, huh? And not even MI 5 (or is it MI 6?). Now Reverend G. Bampfield is a little more mysterious.  He was the founder of the Institute of St. Andrew and a “well know convert” according to sketchy sources. But I hit pay dirt on Reverend Bampfield when I traced him to the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel & St. George Enfield. As Sherlock Holmes would say, it was simplicity itself (thanks to Google!).

And now, without further adieu, the Reverend George Bampfields essay,

Cannot, or Which Church Believes the Bible?

Which Religion really believes the Bible ? “The Protestant,” you will say, “of course. Is not the whole talk of Protestants about the Bible? Do they not scatter Bibles, as the sower scatters seed? Are there not Bible readers, and Bible sellers, and Bible classes, and Bible Societies, by the hundred ?”

Yes: that is true. But to read the Bible, and talk about it, and sell it, is one thing; to believe it is another. Now when the Bible says a thing, who really believe it, the Protestants or the Catholics?

“A very odd question; why ! I never heard of Catholics believing the Bible. They are never allowed to read it, and the priests burn all they can get.”

Odd or not, will you look quietly into the question with me? I was once a Protestant and am now a Catholic, and it seems to me that Protestants never take the Bible to have a plain, straightforward, common-sense meaning like any other book. Other books mean what they say: the Bible alone, according to Protestants, means one thing and says another. Catholics, on the other hand, do always seem to me to have a common-sense, straightforward meaning for the Bible. Its sayings may be hard to understand and harder to do, but if the Bible says a thing, it is true, and must be believed, however difficult, and done, however unpleasant.

For instance—the Bible says, speaking of marriage, “What God hath joined, let no man put asunder.” Now if I ask a Protestant what this means, he will tell me, “What God hath joined in marriage, let the judge and lawyers of the Divorce Court put asunder.” But if I turn to a Catholic, he says, “Once married, always married. No man can put the married asunder.” What! not even the Pope, or a General Council! Not all the Popes nor all the Councils. God only, Who joined them, can part them by death.

It seems to me that here the Catholic takes the Bible at its word, sticks close to its clear, common-sense meaning, and that the Protestant shuffles about it, and makes it say one thing and mean the opposite. “Let no man put asunder,” is not the same thing as “Let the Divorce Court put asunder.” Is it ?

“They do not sound very much alike. However, one flower does not make a nosegay. Have you more things of the same sort?”

Plenty. I will go through a few, and I fancy you will have as big a nosegay as you can well carry.

1. The Bible says (S. John iii. 5), “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” I take this text to a Low Churchman of the Church of England, to an Independent, or a Baptist, or other Dissenter, and I say to him, “Do you believe that a man must be born again of water and the Spirit ?” Well, he will say, of the Spirit; certainly of the Spirit. The water you know is a form, and no form can be necessary. The unbaptized babies doubtless go to Heaven without the water.

“Well, but,” I answer, “the Bible says not Spirit only, but water and the Spirit.”

Water is not necessary, they reply; that souls are born again in baptism is a soul-destroying doctrine.

I turn to the Catholic and ask “What do you think of this text?” And the answer is, What the Bible says it means; it says water and it means water; except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Unbaptised babies, though they are not cast into torments, do not enter into Heaven.

Certainly the Catholic is the closest; and when I look into the Protestant’s reasons, I find that the real cause of his not sticking so close is a fancy that God cannot save through water. How can a drop of water possibly touch the soul, and roll away sin?

Cannot! says the Catholic on the other hand; God can do what He likes through whatever means he likes. His power is shown best by the choice of weakest means; and as a matter of fact, the Bible tells us that He has chosen water as a channel of grace and forgiveness. God’s will is all we have to do with; we know nothing about “cannot” when we speak of God.

2. I go again on another matter to the Low Church man or the Wesleyan, or Independent, or other Protestant. I ask, Do you believe that a man by the power of God forgives the sins of other men? “Of course not,” he tells me with a laugh of mockery if he be a merry man, or a scowl of indignant horror if he be of the severer sort; “of course not, man cannot forgive the sins of his fellows.”

“Well, but here is plain Bible on the point. The Apostles were men, and Our Lord said to these men quite plainly (John xx. 23), ‘Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them.’ Now if this does not mean that God gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins, what does it mean? Is ‘whosesoever sins ye remit’ the same as ‘You can’t remit any sins;’ or is ‘they are remitted unto them,’ the same as ‘of course they won’t be remitted unto them ?’”

But come with me to the Catholic Church and ask the priest about it. “We know,” we will say to him, for priests are mostly good-natured men and like a little fun, “we know that you are greatly afraid of the Bible, and never let your people see it for fear they should find you out. Now here is a plain text: dare you face it? What does it mean?”

Mean! he will answer; why! of course it means just what it says, like any other straightforward truth-loving book. The Apostles were men, and being men they did remit sin; and those sins were remitted. Of course through the power of God, not through their own power. God only can forgive sins, but He can forgive them through what instrument He pleases. And the instruments He used of old time were men, as is clear by the text; and if He forgave sins of old time through men, He will surely forgive sins through men now; for He does not change.

Really the priest does not seem frightened of this text at all events. He gives to the words their plainest, simplest meaning; the Protestant does not; he either gives the words no sense at all, or he puts upon them a crooked round-about meaning, not a plain meaning for plain words such as any other book would have.

Again the reason the Protestants have for not sticking to the clear sense is “cannot.” God cannot forgive sins through man. “Cannot!” says the Catholic, “yes, through these stones if He pleases.” The question is not about “can” or ” cannot.” The question is only, ” What way of forgiving sins has God chosen ; of what way does the Bible speak?”

3. A third matter. I go again with my open Bible to our Low Churchman, our Independent, or other Dissenter. It is open at St. Matthew, chap. 26, verse 20—”Take eat : this is My Body.” I say to them, “Here are very simple words. Do you believe them? When Our Lord said, ‘This is My Body,’ did He mean ‘this is My Body ?’”

“Well! No,” our Protestant friend will say, “He did not mean exactly, This is My Body; He meant, This is the figure of My Body.”

But He does not say so—He says, This is My Body, and, again, This is My Blood.

“No. He does not say so, but He means what He does not say. He says, this is My Body, but He means, This is a figure, a type, a likeness of My Body. He says, This is My Blood, but means, This is a figure of My Blood.”

Then you will grant that your meaning is not the first clear, common-sense, easy meaning which the words would have? When it is written that the water was made wine (St. John ii. 9), you would not say that the first clear meaning of the word was, the water was made a likeness of wine ?

” We suppose this must be granted. Our Protestant meaning is not the first clear meaning of the words.”

Well, then! let us turn again to that un-scriptural priest who is so afraid of the Bible. What say you, Reverend Father, of these words?

“I say, what I have always in all things said, that the Bible means what its words seem to mean. The plain, simple, straightforward sense is the true sense. When our Lord said, This is My Body, it was His Body; when He said, This is My Blood, it was His Blood. Just as when a man says, this is a book, he means this is a book, not this is the figure of a book; so surely with Our Blessed Lord, Who cannot love to puzzle us by hiding His meaning under doubtful words. Why does our good Protestant think that our Lord meant one thing and said another?

“Oh! because it cannot be. It is impossible. Bread cannot become God’s Body: wine cannot become His Blood.”

Cannot again! Always cannot! In Baptism cannot, in Confession cannot, and now again cannot? What is it that God cannot do?

Surely the priest is here again the straightforward one of the two. He does not seem afraid of the Bible after all. It is the Protestant who seems afraid, who wriggles and shuffles a little, and does not give plain senses to plain language.

It will be perhaps the same with St. John vi. 53, “Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you.” Do you, Low Church, or Independent, or Wesleyan minister, do you really eat the real Flesh and drink the real Blood of God ?

“No, certainly not; Our Lord means that we must eat the figure of His Flesh, drink the figure of His Blood ; eat and drink His Flesh and Blood not with the body but only with the mind.”

We turn to the priest, and his answer is straightforward as before. “What the Bible says it means. We do really eat the real Flesh of God; we do really drink the real Blood of God. He enters not into our soul only by His Spiritual Power, but His Real Body enters into our body, and is meat indeed and drink indeed.”

Ain’t that grand?  And trust me —it gets even better! You can read part II of this delightful essay hereAnd to learn more about the Catholic Truth Society, click here.

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