Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 1

Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 1 March 10, 2023
The book, The Infallibility of the Church (1888) by Anglican anti-Catholic polemicist George Salmon (1819-1904), may be one of the most extensive and detailed — as well as influential — critiques of the Catholic Church ever written. But, as usual with these sorts of works, it’s abominably argued and relentlessly ignorant and/or dishonest, as the critique below will amply demonstrate and document.
The most influential and effective anti-Catholic Protestant polemicist today, “Dr” [???] James White, cites Salmon several times in his written materials, and regards his magnum opus as an “excellent” work. In a letter dated 2 November 1959, C. S. Lewis recommended the book to an inquirer who was “vexed” about papal infallibility. Russell P. Spittler, professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote that “From an evangelical standpoint,” the book “has been standard since first published in 1888” (Cults and Isms, Baker Book House, 1973, 117). Well-known Baptist apologist Edward James Carnell called it the “best answer to Roman Catholicism” in a 1959 book. I think we can safely say that it is widely admired among theological (as well as “emotional”) opponents of the Catholic Church.
Prominent Protestant apologist Norman Geisler and his co-author Ralph MacKenzie triumphantly but falsely claim, in a major critique of Catholicism, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1995, 206-207, 459), that Salmon’s book has “never really been answered by the Catholic Church,” and call it the “classic refutation of papal infallibility,” which also offers “a penetrating critique of Newman’s theory.”
Salmon’s tome, however, has been roundly refuted at least twice: first, by Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Murphy in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record (March / May / July / September / November 1901 and January / March 1902): a response (see the original sources) — which I’ve now transcribed almost in its totality — which was more than 73,000 words, or approximately 257 pages; secondly, by Bishop Basil Christopher Butler (1902-1986) in his book, The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to the Abridged ‘Salmon’ (1954, 230 pages). See all of these replies — and further ones that I make — listed under “George Salmon” on my Anti-Catholicism web page. But no Protestant can say that no Catholic has adequately addressed (and refuted) the egregious and ubiquitous errors in this pathetic book. And we’ll once again see how few (if any) Protestants dare to counter-reply to all these critiques.
See other installments:

Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 2 . . . In Which Dr. Salmon Accuses Cardinal Newman of Lying Through His Teeth in His Essay on Development, & Dr. Murphy Magnificently Defends Infallibility and Doctrinal Development Against Gross Caricature [3-12-23]

Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 3 . . . In Which Our Sophist-Critic Massively Misrepresents Cardinal Newman and Utterly Misunderstands the Distinction Between Implicit and Explicit Faith [3-12-23]

Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 4 . . . in which Dr. Salmon Sadly Reveals Himself to be a Hyper-Rationalistic Pelagian Heretic, and Engages in Yet More Misrepresentation of Development of Doctrine and Cardinal Newman’s Statements and Positions [3-15-23]

Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 5: Private Judgment, the Rule of Faith, and Dr. Salmon’s Weak Fallible Protestant “Church”: Subject to the Whims of Individuals; Church Fathers Misquoted [3-15-23]

Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 6: The Innumerable Perils of Perspicuity of Scripture and Private Judgment [3-16-23]

Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 7 [3-16-23]


Vol. IX: March 1901
Dr. Salmon’s ‘Infallibility’
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Murphy, D.D.
[I have made a few paragraph breaks not found in the original. Citations in smaller font are instead indented, and all of Dr. Salmon’s words will be in blue]
There  are Catholic theologians who maintain, and not without good reason, that it is a note of the true Church that she should be calumniated and persecuted. And her Divine Founder insinuated this very clearly when He said to His disciples: — ‘If you had been of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. [Jn 15:19]  Very
early in the Church’s history she had bitter experience of the truth of these words; and every age of her existence supplies her with fresh experience of it.

But the shedding of Christian blood in hatred of Christian truth, has long since ceased to be fashionable, and if indulged in now, would, perhaps, call forth a protest from the Great Powers. The old hatred, however, finds expression still in a system of persecution, less openly cruel, but certainly more destructive of souls — the misrepresentation of Catholic doctrines and practices. Satan knows his enemy well, and in his warfare with the Church there is no truce. He gets his deputies to do his work, unceasingly, and by them no means are left untried to weaken or destroy the faith of those who are within the Church or to hinder those who are without from entering her fold.

Amongst the assailants of the Church, there are very many the vehemence of whose declamation is in precise proportion to their ignorance of the doctrines they condemn. Such persons cure rather objects for pity. They will not, of course, take the Church’s teaching from herself; for then it may not be so easy to refute it. They persistently attribute to her doctrines which she does not hold, and so they readily refute the phantoms of their own creation. They act just like those pagans of whom Tertullian said: ‘They are unwilling to hear, what, if heard, they could not condemn.’

And very often, too, the attack on the Church is made by men of undoubted ability, and of considerable acquirements, from whom, therefore, we should have expected accurate statements of our doctrines and intelligent treatment of the grounds on which these doctrines are held. And yet when we read their controversial works, we seek in vain for any of these qualities. They seem to understand the Church quite as little as the least educated of her assailants. The ability, the calmness, the spirit of dispassionate inquiry, which mark them in other departments of learning, seem to have completely abandoned them when they discuss the claims of the Catholic Church.

Dr. Salmon is a specimen of this class. He was known as a scientific scholar of some eminence. He is also the author of some articles in Dr. Smith’s Dictionaries, and of an Introduction to the New Testament, which is a useful compilation, though often disfigured by needless exhibitions of anticatholic bias. His book on Infallibility will bring him no laurels. Indeed, judged by this book, Dr. Salmon seems to be a ‘survival of the fittest’ to remind us of a time when no charge was too vile to be made against Catholics, and believed of them on mere assertion; and when no vindication, however conclusive, of Catholic doctrines and practices would obtain a hearing. The book consists of a series of lectures delivered in Trinity College, Dublin, to young men preparing for the ministry of the Protestant Church, and its aim is to show, that the claim to Infallibility made by the Catholic Church is groundless.

The present writer’s attention was called to Dr. Salmon’s book on its first appearance some years since, but it did not seem to him to call for serious theological treatment, because the reasoning was of such a kind, as could not deceive any educated Catholic, whilst the cost and bulk of the volume made it highly improbable that it would circulate amongst the uneducated, who alone could be affected by it. As however it is now certain that determined and persistent efforts have been made to circulate it amongst Protestants to confirm them in their prejudices against the Catholic Church, to shut out the light of truth from them, and as it has been used also in attempting to unsettle the faith of converts to Catholicism; and is, furthermore, the storehouse whence proselytising parsons and Church Mission agents get their stock-in-trade, it may be well to call attention to its contents.

Pere Hardouin is reported to have said to some friend who called him to task for his historical eccentricities: ‘Do you think that I have been rising all my life at four o’clock in the morning, merely to say what everyone has been saying before me?’ The learned Jesuit’s mantle has certainly not fallen on Dr, Salmon. No long vigils were needed for the composition of his book. He has said nothing in it that was not often said by others before him. He does not seem to understand — he certainly does not state correctly — the Catholic doctrine on infallibility; and he has said little against it, that was not said, with more force and better taste, by Dr. Whately and Dr. Todd. Indeed, he quotes several long passages from Dr, Whately’s Cautions for the Times without a syllable of change, and without the ceremony of an inverted comma. He draws largely on Usher and Chillingworth, and still more largely on Lesley and Littledale; he frequently adopts the reasonings and sometimes the words, of that theological luminary, Dr. Tresham Gregg.

His parade of erudition can deceive only the ignorant as to the very second-hand character of his book. He seldom ventures on a proof of any of his statements; no doubt, satisfied that his own assertion is a sufficient warrant of their truth. This, too, may have been the opinion of the students whom he lectured; but, after all, it is not fair to them to send them out into the world to carry on controversies with us, equipped only with the information supplied by Dr. Salmon. There are scattered through the book some smart sayings which may excite laughter amongst young men in a class-room, but do not help to prepare them for the more serious work that awaits them in the world abroad. Indeed, no fairly intelligent person can read through the lectures without feeling how little the students owe to their professor. Then, again, he frequently applies to us epithets, that are known to be insulting, and justifies himself by saying that he is speaking behind our backs. Well, this is all a matter of taste, and by all means let the Doctor indulge in this. It does us no harm.

He volunteers graciously to make us one liberal concession. He will call us ‘Roman Catholics’ if we call him and his brethren ‘Irish Catholics.’ Truth forbids us, however, to make the compromise, and the Doctor would not know himself under the new title. He openly, and, indeed, needlessly, proclaims himself a ‘Protestant’ (page 9); but by ‘Protestant’ he means ‘one who has examined into the Roman claims, and found reason to think them groundless’ (page 10). This qualification limits very considerably the number of Dr. Salmon’s co-religionists, and completely disposes of his claim to the title Catholic. And, though he is treating of an all-important subject, there is nothing in his book really deserving the name of argument — no sound reasoning, no dispassionate discussion, no elevating thought. ‘My own opinion is’‘For myself, I cannot admit’; ‘I will tell you what seems to me’; ‘My belief is’; ‘In my opinion’ — these are Dr. Salmon’s loci theologici.

The book teems with sinister insinuations against us, with misrepresentations of our doctrines and practices. It contains several statements regarding us that are made with reckless indifference to fact, and there is no relying on any of his quotations. Now, when a man like Dr. Salmon carries on the controversy against us in such a fashion, and trains his students to do in like manner, what are we to expect from controversialists of the Lavender Kidds’ school? We are to expect a perpetuation of that bigotry and intolerance of which Dr. Salmon’s university has been, and is, the stronghold; and Dr. Salmon and his friends are to expect that our bishops shall be incessant in their warnings to Catholic young men not to enter a university in which the ruling spirit is of such a kind.

Dr. Salmon devotes an introductory lecture to the ‘Controversy with Rome,’ and he deplores that in recent times it has lost much of its interest. This decline of interest he attributes to various causes. ‘Disestablishment,’ of course, is one, which means, no matter how artfully Dr. Salmon may seek to conceal it, the loss of the ‘loaves and fishes.’ Then there has been ‘a reaction against certain extreme anti-Romanist over-statements’ (page 2), which is Dr. Salmon’s nice name for the vile epithets applied to Catholics and Catholic doctrines by such pretty specimens of taste and truthfulness as Bale, and Fox, and Dopping. Then changes in Eucharistic doctrine and other High Church tendencies have had their influence on the decline of the controversy. And so, too, temptations to scepticism have made many weak-minded people ‘recoil towards Rome, under the idea that they would be safer’ (page 5). This, he tells us, has been the case with ‘a majority of the perverts which Rome has made in later years’ (page 5), including, of course, Cardinal Newman, and Cardinal Manning, and Dr. Ward. Well, if this disastrous indifference to ‘controversy with Rome’ is to continue, the fault shall not be Dr. Salmon’s, for he proceeds to exhort the future parsons to apply themselves zealously to its study. And, in order to stimulate them more effectually, he says: —

I am not ashamed of the object aimed at in the Roman Catholic controversy; I believe that the Church of Rome teaches false doctrine on many points which must be called important, if anything in religion can be called important. . . . I count it then a very good work to release a man from Roman bondage. [p. 6]

And he offers the old golden rule for disposing of Romanism: The Bible, and the Bible only. ‘Assuredly,’ he says, ‘if we desire to preserve our people from defection to Romanism there is no better safeguard than familiarity with Holy Scripture’ (page 11). And again: ‘I have said already that to an unlearned Christian familiarity with the Bible affords the best safeguard against Romanism’ (page 15). That is, put a confessedly difficult book into the hands of an ignorant man, and he is quite certain to interpret it aright! And so certain is the Doctor of the all-sufficiency of the Bible that he says: ‘I should be well pleased if our adversaries were content to fight the battle on that ground’ (page 11). He must have calculated confidently on the ignorance of his audience when he made this astounding statement. He quotes Bellarmine, Dr. Murray, and Perrone; and does he find them declining the battle on that chosen ground of his? And though he would chose Scripture as his battleground, he is himself very sparing in Scriptural quotations; and whenever he happens to quote Scripture, the text is thrown up like a rocket, and left to its fate, without an attempt to show how it applies.

Considering the tone of these lectures, it is an agreeable surprise to find him giving his students the following prudent advice: ‘You must be careful,’ he says, ‘also to distinguish the authorised teaching of the Roman Catholic Church from the unguarded statements of particular divines’ (page 13). And he also cautions them against taking at second-hand extracts from the Fathers.

I find that those who originally made extracts from the writings of the Fathers were more anxious to pick out some sentence in apparent contradiction with the views of their opponents, than to weigh dispassionately whether the question at issue in the modern controversy was at all present to the mind of the author whom they quote, or to search whether elsewhere in his writings passages may not be found bearing a different aspect. [p. 15]

It would have been well that he had confirmed his advice by his own example, but the book affords abundant proof that he has not done so. He devotes a great deal of his lectures to an attempt to identify the ‘statements of particular divines’ with ‘the authorised teaching of the Catholic Church.’ He labours to show that the Church is responsible for the statements made by St. Liguori in his Glories of Mary, and he states distinctly, ‘that the attempt made to release the Church from that responsibility is not successful’ (page 195). He labours to identify with the Church’s official teaching the arguments used by Dr. Milner on the Rule of Faith. He more than insinuates that the Church is to stand or fall with Cardinal Newman’s Essay on Development and Grammar of Assent. Again, the views of Gury, of Father Furniss, of the Abbe Louvet — and these, too, misrepresented — are set forth as the official teaching of the Church. But his transgressions in this department are venial, when compared with his quotations.

At page 20 he quotes ‘Dr. Milner and other controversialists,’ as saying of the Immaculate Conception, ‘that neither Scripture nor tradition contained anything on the subject.’ The ‘other controversialists’ are not named, but Dr. Milner, who is named, made no such statement, nor any statement from which it could be deduced. Towards the close of the thirteenth letter in the End of Controversy, Dr. Milner explains what Catholics mean by the Infallibility of the Church, and he adds: —

This definition furnishes answers to divers other objections and questions of Dr. P. The Church does not decide the controversy concerning the Conception of the Blessed Virgin, and several other disputed points, because she sees nothing absolutely clear and certain concerning them either in the written or unwritten word.

Now, in saying that the Church sees nothing absolutely clear and certain,’ Dr. Milner clearly implies that the Church saw some grounds for deciding the controversy, though not absolutely clear and certain; but Dr. Salmon, to suit his own purposes, omits the important words  absolutely clear and certain,’ and informs his students, that, on the testimony of Dr. Milner, the Immaculate Conception had no foundation in Scripture or Tradition; and that, therefore, on the principle of Catholics themselves, the doctrine could not be defined at all! And this is the learned professor who assures his students, ‘Our object is not victory but truth!’ (page 13).

Again, in the same passage, page 20, in speaking of the definition of the Immaculate Conception, in A.D. 1854, Dr. Salmon says the ‘doctrine was declared to be the universal ancient tradition of the Church.’ Now the definition or declaration was made by Pius IX., and yet, in a note at page 270, the doctor tells us, ‘Pio Nono’s language was not, “Receive this because it has been held semper ubique ab omnibus, but because it is laid down now at Rome by me.” ’ No doubt the students who had heard the first version ridiculed as false in Dr. Salmon’s second lecture, and the contradictory version ridiculed as equally false in his fifteenth lecture, had forgotten their professor’s beautiful consistency, and had added both statements to their polemical stock-in-trade, their aim, of course, being ‘not victory but truth.’

Again, at page 58, he says of Cardinal Newman: ‘He taught that one must not expect certainty in the highest sense before conversion, “Faith must make a venture, and is rewarded by sight.” ’ The reference is to Loss and Gain and the words in the text are: Faith ever begins with a venture, and is rewarded with sight.’ [Part 3, c.i.] This quotation is adduced to show that, according to Cardinal Newman, one must be always doubtful as to the validity of the claims of the Church to our submission. Dr. Salmon’s own version of the argument as given in the previous page (57) is: ‘You must accept, without the least doubt, the assertions of the Church of Rome, because it is an even chance that she may be infallible.’ The text from Loss and Gain is adduced to show that, according to Cardinal Newman, the above version of the Church’s claim is substantially correct.

Now the words quoted do not represent Cardinal Newman’s teaching at all. They are the words of Charles Reding, who is not yet a Catholic, and separated from this context they are grossly unfair, even to him. They are used by Reding in reply to a Protestant friend who is dissuading him from joining the Church, who tells him that he is under a delusion, and that he will find his mistake later on. Reding answers: ‘If I have good grounds for believing, to believe is a duty. God will take care of His own work. I shall not be abandoned in my utmost need. Faith ever begins with a venture, and is rewarded with sight. The words then, as used by Reding, distinctly contradict Dr. Salmon, for he maintains that one can have no good grounds for believing in the Church; whereas Reding clearly implies that he has good grounds. And Dr. Salmon takes as much of Reding’s statement as can be distorted, and gives this garbled text to his students as the clear testimony of Cardinal Newman against the claims of the Catholic Church, and his ‘object is not victory but truth.’

In the sixth chapter of the same Part 3, Dr. Salmon could have found, what he might, with some show of reason, have quoted as Cardinal Newman’s teaching. Reding on his way to London to be received into the Church, meets with a priest and gets into conversation with him on the subject of which his soul was full. He quotes some of the very statements made by Dr. Salmon: he finds himself unable though wishing to believe, for he has not evidence enough to subdue his reason: —

‘What is to make him believe?’ the priest says shortly but quietly: ‘What is to make him believe? the will, his will . . . the evidence is not at fault, all it requires is to be brought home and applied to the mind; if belief does not follow the fault lies with the will . . . Depend upon it there is quite evidence enough for a moral conviction, that the Catholic or Roman Church, and no other, is the voice of God. . . .  I mean a conviction, and one only, steady, without rival conviction or even reasonable doubt; a conviction to this effect — the Roman Catholic Church is the one only voice of God, the one only way of salvation Certainty, in the highest sense [the certainty of faith], is the reward of those who, by an act of the will, and at the dictate of reason and prudence, embrace the truth when nature like a coward shrinks. You must make a venture. Faith is a venture before a man is a Catholic, it is a gift after it.’

Dr. Salmon is welcome to all the aid he can get from this, the real teaching of Cardinal Newman. In the face of such evidence of the cardinal’s teaching it needs a very strong imagination to quote him as admitting that there is neither reason, nor prudence, nor argument, guiding those who join the Church, ‘and that it is an even chance that she may be infallible.’ (page 57).

Now, when books that are accessible to all, are so misquoted— so misrepresented by Dr. Salmon— what confidence can we have in his quotations from works that are rare and accessible to few, such as the Fathers and obscure theologians? Let us see. At page 28 he says: —

The Roman Catholic advocates ceased to insist that the doctrines of the Church could be deduced from Scripture, but the theory of some early heretics, refuted by Irenaeus, was revived, namely, that the Bible does not contain the whole of God’s revelation, and that a body of traditional doctrine existed in the Church equally deserving of veneration.

And in proof of this he gives in a note the following quotation from St. Irenaeus: —

‘When they [the Valentinians] are confuted from the Scriptures they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures as if they were not correct, nor of authority; for that they are ambiguously worded, and that the truth cannot be discovered from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For they say that the truth was not delivered in writing but viva voce; wherefore Paul also declared: — “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world.” ’ [I. 3, c. 2]

And to make the analogy complete, Irenaeus goes on to complain that when the Church met these on their own ground of tradition, then they had recourse to a theory of development, claiming to be then in possession of purer doctrine than that which the Apostles had been content to teach.

This long extract fully illustrates the controversial tactics of Dr. Salmon. He tells his students that we have ‘ceased to insist’ on a doctrine which he knows we never held at all, and he tells them also that the doctrines which we do hold, and which are defined in the fourth session of the Council of Trent, is the same as that of the Valentinians, and is involved in the condemnation of these heretics by Irenaeus. We hold that all the revelation made to the Apostles was not committed to writing by them; that part of it remained unwritten, and was handed down by the Apostles to their successors, and remains in the custody of the Church as part of the deposit of faith. Was this the teaching of the Valentinians? Was this the doctrine condemned by Irenaeus?

Certainly not, and Dr. Salmon must be quite well aware of this. The Valentinians, like the Gnostics, ‘claim to have a secret tradition unknown to the Church at large. This would imply either that the Apostles did not know the whole truth, or that, knowing it, they did not communicate it to those whom they taught’ (page 150). The same tenets are attributed to them by Dr. Salmon at page 358, and again at page 381, where he states that the argument of St. Irenaeus were directed against that theory. Dr. Salmon then informs his students, in his second lecture, that the Catholic teaching was the Valentinian heresy, and was condemned by Irenaeus; but in his ninth, nineteenth, and twentieth lectures he admits that it was quite a different doctrine that was held by the Valentinians, and condemned by the saint. Clearly he had no fear that his students would detect his inconsistency or trouble themselves to test the quotation from Irenaeus; and he so manipulated the text as to conceal from them effectually what the saint really did condemn. He breaks off the quotation precisely when Irenaeus begins to explain his meaning, and instead of the words of the saint gives a gloss of his own which has not an atom of foundation in the text. Immediately after the words quoted by Dr. Salmon the text is: —

And this wisdom each one of them says is that which he finds in himself — a fiction, forsooth; so that properly, according to them, the truth is at one time in Valentinian, at another in Marcion, at another in Crinthus, and subsequently in Basilides, or in this or that disputant who can say nothing salutary. For each of them, in every sense wicked, is not ashamed to preach himself, thus corrupting the rule of truth. But when we challenge them to that tradition which is from the Apostles, which is held in the Church by the succession of presbyters, they reject tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser than the presbyters, and even than the Apostles, and have discovered the genuine truth — that the Apostles have mixed up legal observances with the Saviour’s words, . . . whilst they themselves know the hidden mystery with certainty and without  mixture of error, which is, indeed, to blaspheme their Creator in a most impudent manner. Hence it comes to pass that they neither agree with Scripture nor tradition.

And in the opening of the next chapter (3) the saint explains the apostolic tradition preserved in the various Churches, and witnessed to by the succession of bishops of each Church; and then he gives the Roman Church and its bishops as the great reliable witness of apostolic tradition for the whole Church. And, with this text before him, Dr. Salmon does not hesitate to tell his students that St. Irenaeus condemns the Catholic doctrine on tradition. No. St. Irenaeus is a most eloquent vindicator of Catholic tradition, whilst he condemns, in scathing terms, the impudent assumption by the Valentinians of superior, hidden knowledge, which is something very much akin to that gustus spiritualis which Dr. Salmon and his evangelical friends claim as their guide to the discovery of Biblical truth. The attempt, then, to make a pervert of St. Irenaeus, is a miserable failure, and, in making it, Dr. Salmon has shown a reckless indifference to the responsibilities of his position. He is training up young men to be controversialists, and is, by very questionable tactics, filling their minds with false views, which, when the day of trial comes, will expose them to certain defeat and to ridicule.

Those few specimens of Dr. Salmon’s quotations will give some idea of his reliability in that department, but before proceeding to deal with his theology it may be well to give a specimen of the spirit which he seeks to instil into his students. At page 11, he says: —

And assuredly if we desire to preserve our people from defection to Romanism, there is no better safeguard than familiarity with Holy Scripture. For example, the mere study of the character of our Blessed Lord, as recorded in the Gospel, is enough to dissipate the idea, that there can be others, more loving, more compassionate, or more ready to hear our prayers than He.

Here, now, is a statement as clear as it can be made by implication, that we hold that there are some — perhaps many — ‘ more loving, and more compassionate, more ready to hear our prayers,’ than our Blessed Redeemer is! Now, what are Dr. Salmon’s grounds for this monstrous insinuation? He has none. Impossible. He knows his students well; they are prepared to believe everything that is bad of Catholics. Their minds have been, from their earliest years, filled and saturated with anticatholic prejudices; and now their professor, with all the weight that years and experience, and a reputation for learning, can give to his teaching, levels at us the insinuation, Satanic in its character, that we believe there are others more kind and compassionate than our ever Blessed Redeemer.

If the young men who imbibe such teaching, bring to the discharge of their clerical duties charity, or liberality, or enlightenment, they certainly do not owe it to their professor. His lectures are teeming with all the time-worn calumnies against Catholics. He has a case to make, and is not scrupulous as to the manner of making it. He has a tradition to maintain, and his arguments in its favour are judiciously selected to suit the tastes and capacity of his hearers. Scripture, fathers, theologians are made to say precisely what the lecturer wishes them to say, and all the time the lecturer is a victim to his love of truth!

The specimens already given of Dr. Salmons controversial style would seem to dispense with the necessity of any detailed examination of his book. Can anything good come from Nazareth? And the examination is entered on, not for his sake, but for the sake of those who have been, or are likely to be, deceived by his statements. The headings of the several lectures give a very inadequate idea of the contents: they are full of repetitions, full of irrelevant matter; there is much declamation, and no logical order. It is, therefore, difficult so to systematize the matter as to bring it within reasonable compass for treatment, but it is hoped that nothing important will be over-looked.

Dr. Salmon is a firm believer in the all-sufficiency of the Bible. It is his supreme antidote to Romanism. He says: —

The first impression of one who has been brought up from childhood to know and value his Bible is, that there is no room for discussion as to the truth of the Roman Catholic doctrine. . . . And assuredly if we desire to preserve our people from defection to Romanism, there is no better safeguard than familiarity with Holy Scripture, . . .  thus believing, as I do, that the Bible, not merely in single texts, but, in its whole spirit, is antagonistic to the Romish system. [p. 11]

I have already stated that to an unlearned Christian, familiarity with the Bible affords the best safeguard against Romanism. [p. 15]

Now, it is strange that so firm a believer in the all-sufficiency of Scripture should not be able to ‘cite Scripture to his purpose.’ ‘Neither,’ he says ‘shall I bring forward the statements of Scripture which bear witness to its own sufficiency’ (page 132). And, for the best of all reasons, because there are no such statements. And it would have been well for Dr. Salmon’s reputation if he had been equally economical in his quotations from the Fathers in favour of his pet theory. He informs his students, for instance, that they had the sanction of several of the most eminent Fathers for thinking that what was asserted, without the authority of Holy Scripture, might be ‘despised as freely as approved’ (page 29); the quotation is repeated at greater length at page 147. ‘This, because it has not authority from the Scriptures, is with the same easiness despised as approved.’

The quotation is from St. Jerome’s Commentary on the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew, and is quite characteristic of Dr. Salmon. It is separated from its context and quoted to prove a doctrine which has not an atom of foundation in St. Jerome’s text. The saint is explaining the thirty-fifth verse in which the Scribes and Pharisees are charged, amongst other crimes, with the blood ofZacharias the son of Barachias whom you killed between the temple and the altar, and he asks who is this Zacharias because he finds many of the name. He gives various opinions, one of them being that the Zacharias named was the father of John the Baptist. This opinion, he says, is grounded on ‘the ravings of some apocryphal writers who say that Zachary was killed because he foretold the coming of the Redeemer. St. Jerome rejects this opinion on the ground that it had no foundation in Scripture, whereas each of the other opinions had some.

He says: You may as easily despise it as approve it. St. Jerome, then, consults the books of the Old Testament — the authentic Jewish record, in which genealogies were, as a rule, pretty fully recorded — to determine which of a certain number of Zacharias this was, who is mentioned by our Lord; and he rejects an opinion on the subject which has no foundation in that record, but rests solely on the ‘dreamings of apocryphal writers. Is Dr. Salmon prepared to reject anything not found in the Old Testament, for St. Jerome’s quotation will confine him to that? St Jerome searches the Old Testament to determine a certain historical fact, and from this Dr. Salmon argues that we must all search the Scripture, and Scripture only, to determine our faith. St. Jerome says: You may despise or approve the ravings of some apocryphal writers, and hence Dr. Salmon informs his juvenile controversialists, ‘you must despise and reject apostolical tradition, and you have St, Jerome’s authority for doing so.’ From controversialists so trained, the Catholic Church has nothing to fear.

Two other quotations from St. Jerome are given in the the same page (147), and for the same purpose. ‘As we accept those things that are written, so we reject those things that are not written.’ The words of St. Jerome are: ‘As we do not deny those things that are written, so we reject those that are not written.’ This quotation is from St. Jerome’s letter against Helvidius who denied the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin, and who to prove his view appealed to St. Matt. i. 25: ‘And he knew her not till she brought forth her first son.’ Helvidius also appealed to the texts in which the ‘ brethren of the Lord’ are mentioned. He inferred from the texts that the Blessed Virgin did not continue a virgin; St. Jerome quotes a number of texts of similar construction to show that the inference was groundless. He quotes the texts of St. Matthew to prove that our Lord was born of a virgin — this is what the text does say. Helvidius relies on an inference from the text; that is, on what the text does not say. So also from the texts referring to the ‘brethren of the Lord.

Helvidius infers that they were natural brothers, though the texts do not say so. St. Jerome proves from parallel texts that this inference is groundless. With this in his mind, St Jerome says: ‘Just as we do not deny the things that are written, so we reject the things that are not written; that God was born of a virgin we believe because we read it; that Mary ceased to be a virgin we do not believe because we do not read it.’ St. Jerome says then: ‘I accept what the texts state; I deny what they do not state.’ And this is the authority offered to his students by Dr. Salmon as a proof of the all-sufficiency of Scripture and as an argument against tradition! The Doctor did not tell his students that in this very letter against Helvidius St. Jerome actually appeals to tradition as a proof of the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin. After dealing with the arguments of Helvidius, St. Jerome says: —

But why am I dealing in trifles. . . . Can I not put before you the whole long line of ancient writers — Ignatius, Polycarp, lrenaeus, Justin Martyr, and many other apostolic and eloquent men who have written volumes full of wisdom against Ebion and Valentinian, who hold this same opinion?

That the writer of this forcible and eloquent appeal to tradition, should be quoted against tradition, shows how applicable to Dr. Salmon are St. Jerome’s words immediately following the above quotation: ‘Which volumes if you had read you would know something better.’

The next text from St. Jerome is still more extraordinary in its application: ‘These things which they invent, as if by apostolic tradition, without the authority of Scripture, the sword of God smites’ (page 147). One can fancy the joyous amazement of the young theologians of Trinity, as they listened to this quotation. How they must have been shocked at the duplicity of Rome; but now her days were numbered; they must have felt that Dr. Salmon himself was the ‘pillar and the ground of truth.’ But, as in the other quotations, their professor was blindfolding them here again. The quotation is from St. Jerome’s Commentary on Aggeus, i, 11: ‘And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the wine, and upon the oil,’ etc.

The saint is explaining the woes threatened to the Jews for their neglect in not rebuilding the Temple. He says that instead of ‘drought ’ the Septuagint has ‘sword,’ whilst the Hebrew is ambiguous, inasmuch as the consonants in both words are the same, and only the vowel points would distinguish them. He proceeds to show how the ‘sword’ is used in Scripture as a symbol of the punishment of sinners. He then goes on to give a mystical explanation of the other words of the text. The mountains are those who rise up against the knowledge of God; the corn and wine and oil are the inducements held out by heretics to flatter those whom they deceive. The oil also, he says, represents the heavenly rewards promised by heretics.

And then comes the passage quoted by Dr. Salmon: ‘And other things, too, which without authority or testimony of Scripture, but as if by apostolic tradition, they, of their own accord, find out and invent, the sword of God smites.’ Now, clearly the things condemned here are grounded not on genuine apostolical tradition, but on traditions falsely called apostolical. The words used are reperiunt atque confingunt. The tradition, therefore, is spurious, a fiction, and not apostolical. And had Dr. Salmon continued his quotation for one other sentence, his students would have got specimens of the traditions falsely called apostolical. They were, among other things, certain extraordinary austerities, long fasts, vigils, mortifications, sleeping on the ground, etc., arising out of the example of Tatian in particular, de Tatiani radice crescentes.

St. Jerome, then, condemns fanatical practices which had no foundation on apostolical tradition, notwithstanding the pretensions of those who proclaimed them. And on the strength of this passage Dr. Salmon informs his students that St. Jerome condemns apostolic tradition, and maintains the ‘Bible and the Bible only,’ though, as already shown, the saint is a most eloquent and powerful advocate of tradition. To defend the Bible, and the Bible only, must, to Dr. Salmon’s mind, be a forlorn hope, when he has recourse to such arguments as these; and it is sad to see one in his position instilling such views into the minds of young men who are not likely to take the trouble of verifying his quotations. He is treating them badly. They came to him, it must be presumed, for knowledge, and he is making them more than ignorant. They ask him for bread, and he gives them a stone. In his first lecture he gave them a wise warning as to quotations from the Fathers, and in nearly every quotation in his book he does himself the very thing which he condemned.

Dr. Salmon gives at pages 119-121 a very long quotation from St. John Chrysostom on the reading of the Scriptures. It is very eloquent, very forcible, and very appropriate all through. But should another edition of Dr. Salmon’s book be called for, it is respectfully suggested that he should insert at full length the Encyclical of Leo XIII., On the Sacred Scriptures [1893]. He will find it as forcible, and certainly a far more able exhortation to the reading and study of Scripture, than anything he can find in St. Chrysostom. The quotation of the Encyclical would no doubt cause some murmurs in the class-room; and would be distasteful to many of his readers, as it would tend to disturb their settled conviction of the hostility of Catholics to the Bible; but such considerations should not weight with one whose ‘object is not victory but truth.’

But there is one brief quotation from St. Chrysostom at page 90 which merits a passing notice: ‘All things are plain and simple in the Holy Scriptures; all things necessary are evident.’ This is taken from St. Chrysostom’s Third Homily on the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians. The homily is a vigorous and eloquent attack on persons who decline to come to the church to hear the Scriptures read and explained. One of the excuses given for abstension from church was, that there was no sermon; and St. John asks what need is there of a sermon, ‘all things are plain and simple in Scripture.’ Now, St. Peter ought to be, at least, as good an authority on this matter as St. Chrysostom, and he very distinctly states that the Scriptures are not so ‘plain and simple,’ and that certain very serious consequences follow from the misinterpretation of them. Dr. Salmon agrees with St. Chrysostom, in holding that the Scriptures are very plain and simple, and such being the case, how does it happen that in a certain very plain passage of Scripture, St. Chrysostom finds the doctrine of the Real Presence, whilst in the very same passage Dr. Salmon finds the doctrine of the Beal Absence? If Dr. Salmon be right in his view, then St. Chrysostom is wanting either in intelligence or in honesty; whereas if St. Chrysostom be right, then Dr. Salmon is not so far-seeing as some people fancy, or not so zealous in his pursuit of Biblical truth.

The Doctor can maintain that St. Chrysostom is right, only by the humiliating confession that he is wrong himself. It may be too much to expect the Doctor to put the matter in this way to his juvenile theologians; but it is the true way to put it; and they would be all the better prepared for future contingencies, if they were told the truth, and nothing but the truth. Dr. Salmon says truly that St. Chrysostom was a most eloquent preacher, and such preachers are sometimes carried away by their eloquence into slight exaggerations. Of this we have a conspicuous instance in St. Chrysostom’s Seventeenth Homily on St. Matthew, where he distinctly condemns even a necessary oath. His words are: ‘But what if someone shall exact an oath, and shall impose a necessity for taking it?’ and he answers: ‘Let the fear of God weigh more with him than any necessity.’

Now this is clearly an exaggeration occurring in an eloquent invective against swearing; and the passage quoted by Dr. Salmon may be another instance of it. A few sentences lower down in Dr. Salmon’s quotation St. Chrysostom insists on the plainness of the historical portions of Scripture, and, perhaps, his general statement may be limited to such portions. But, at all events, in the very opening sentence of the next homily (IV.) he distinctly admits that St. Paul’s doctrine is obscure — a statement which no one, except for controversial purposes, would think of denying. And as Dr. Salmon himself says at page 124: ‘I suppose there is not one of them [Fathers] to whose opinion on all points we should like to pledge ourselves,’ he cannot deny the same liberty to others, especially in a case where the opinion is so notoriously opposed to facts. St. Athanasius, too, is put forward as a witness to the all-sufficiency of Scripture. He is quoted as saying: ‘The holy and inspired Scriptures are sufficient in themselves for the preaching of the truth.’ (page 154). This is from the Oratio Contra Gentes, and in its dexterous manipulation Dr. Salmon appears at his best. The text is: —

Sufficient indeed of themselves for indicating the truth, are both the sacred and inspired Scriptures, and the very many volumes written on the same matter by most holy teachers, which if one shall study, he will to some extent understand the sense of the Scriptures, and perhaps attain that knowledge which he desires.

The Oratio was addressed to Macarius, a learned man who seems to have asked St. Athanasius for an explanation of the Christian creed; and the saint tells him, that he may perhaps be able to get the knowledge he requires from Scripture interpreted by the writings of the Fathers — that is, from Scripture and tradition this learned man may, perhaps, be able to get what he is to believe. Dr. Salmon quietly suppresses the reference to the Fathers — tradition — and represents Athanasius as saying that the required knowledge can be got from Scripture alone. A learned man may get his faith from Scripture and tradition combined, according to Athanasius himself; therefore, argues Dr. Salmon, according to St. Athanasius even an ignorant man can get his creed from the Bible alone! Of course the students took the version of the Regius Professor, ‘and sure he is an honourable man.’

But all Dr. Salmon’s tall-talk about the Bible comes to a stand-still, when the plain question is put to him: How does he know that the Bible is the Word of God? — how does he know that the Bible is inspired? He is very indignant with Catholics for putting this question, and he frequently reproaches them with using ‘the infidel argument.’ But Catholics answer ‘the infidel argument,’ he cannot. St. Augustine put the answer tersely and truly when he said: ‘I would not believe the Gospels, unless the authority of the Church moved me to do so.’ Dr. Salmon does not believe in the authority of the Church, and cannot therefore give such an answer. He puts the Bible on a level with Livy or Tacitus, and there he must leave it. He cannot appropriate our conclusions without submitting to our arguments. This matter will come on for fuller treatment later on. But then Dr. Salmon ‘will argue still.’ The Church of Rome, he says, ‘is against the Scriptures because she feels the Scriptures are against her ’ (page 12); ‘The Church of Rome has very good reason to discourage Bible-reading by their people’ (page 123), etc. This is the old, old story, a thousand times refuted, contradicted by the most notorious facts of ecclesiastical history; and yet as often repeated with cool confidence by controversialists of the Dr. Salmon type.

In fact, the case against the Catholic Church is so clear to Dr. Salmon, that he does not see the necessity of adducing any proof. In a note at page 123, he says, ‘I have not troubled myself to give formal proof of the discouragement of Bible-reading by the modern Church of Rome,’ etc. But he quotes the Fourth Rule of the Index to show that we ‘are now often apt to be ashamed of this practice’ (note, p. 123). Considering the general character of Dr. Salmon’s quotations it would be idle to expect him ‘to be ashamed’ of the manner in which he has quoted this Rule. He omits from it a vitally important expression, and the omission enables him to completely misrepresent the object of the Church in making that Rule. The Rule is: ‘Since it is manifest from experience that if the Holy Scriptures in the vulgar tongue be permitted everywhere without distinction, owing to the rashness of men, more evil than good will arise from it,’ etc.

Now the expression, ‘on account of the rashness of men’ — ob hominum temeritatem — clearly gives the motives of the Church in making the law. Bad men abuse the best of God’s gifts, and the Church had abundant experience to convince her that bad men had abased the Bible in the vulgar tongue, and with this knowledge she seeks to check the abuse by permitting the Bible in the vulgar tongue to those only whose character is such that they are likely to be served and not injured by the concession. But Dr. Salmon omits the expression, ‘on account of the rashness of men,’ and leaves the future spiritual guides of Irish Protestants to infer that Catholics hold that the evils come from the Bible in itself, and not from the abuse of it by bad men. Now, to restrict the reading for the motive here openly alleged by the Church indicates a reverence for the Bible, and a desire to save souls from spiritual ruin; but to restrict it for the motive cleverly insinuated by Dr. Salmon indicates a fear and dislike of the Bible in itself — the false charge which Dr. Salmon labours to fasten on the Church, and which he regards so clear as not to need even an attempt at proof.

He quotes the Rule, he says, from Dr. Littledale. Surely he has the original in his own library, and he owed it to his own position as Regius Professor of Divinity, not to take his authority as second-hand, and that a hand so soiled as Dr. Littledale’s. Dr. Littledale wrote for the rabble, whose sole article of faith is hatred of the Catholic Church; but Dr. Salmon is lecturing young men of some education, training them to be controversialists, and yet he confirms them in their ignorance of the very doctrines they will have to assail. Dr. Salmon is notoriously wrong in his version of our theory and practice in this matter, and it is difficult to fancy him ignorant of either. The Fourth Rule of the Index, comes to Catholics as a law, made by competent authority — the Church — legislating for a good end, and within her own proper sphere. The law, therefore, is binding on them, and if they refuse to obey it, they render themselves indisposed for absolution, and the Church treats them as such.

There was no restriction made by the Church on the reading of the Scriptures until the sacred volume began to be abused. When corrupt translations of portions of it began to appear and to be abused, it became the clear duty of the Church to check the abuse, and to warn her children against taking in spiritual poison from a fancied source of life. Some such restrictions were made long before Luther’s time. But at that time the prevalence of corrupt translations, made in the interests of heresy, led to the legislation of the Fourth Rule of the Index; and no unprejudiced person can find, in that legislation, anything but a wise and necessary precaution against the gross and soul-destroying abuse of God’s Word. When the religious excitement of that time had somewhat abated, the law was modified by Pope Benedict XIV., and it has been still more modified in oar time by Pope Leo XIII. But Dr. Salmon may take it as a fact, that a Catholic is as free to read a Catholic vernacular Bible as he is to read his own. Bat it mast be a Catholic Bible, published under proper ecclesiastical sanction, and with explanatory notes from fathers or approved theologians.

Dr. Salmon then is completely wrong in his version of our theory, and is equally wrong as to our practice. If he ever happens to visit any of his Catholic neighbours he will find them possessed of a Catholic Bible, and quite unconscious of any prohibition as to its ase. He will find Catholic Bibles sold by all Catholic booksellers, and at a very reasonable price. If he consult some authority more reliable than Dr. Littledale he will find that for the past hundred years several very valuable editions of the Catholic Bible have been published, and circulated, without the slightest indication of opposition on the part of the ‘modern Church of Rome.’ And if for some time previous to that period he should find few Catholic Bibles in Ireland, Dr. Salmon cannot be ignorant of the cause. It was not ‘the discouragement of Bible-reading by the modem Church of Rome,’ (page 121), but the worse than pagan tyranny of the Church to which Dr. Salmon himself professes to belong. The spirit that inspired the Penal Laws against Catholics, and that regulated their administration was the spirit of the Protestant Church, and had its focus in Dr. Salmon’s own university; and it ill-becomes him to reproach us with the consequences of that degrading system.

Our schools were burned, our teachers hanged or exiled; no Catholic Bible, or other Catholic book could be published in the country, except by stealth, and at fearful risk to the publisher and possessor. The law aimed at making us unable to read, and left us nothing to read that was not anticatholic. Protestant education we could have got, and Protestant Bibles too, and we would be well paid for accepting them. But we spurned the bribe, we defied the laws, and kept the faith. These few plain well-known facts, entirely overlooked by Dr. Salmon, help to explain our practice as to Bible-reading, at a time not so long past as to have left no impression on Dr. Salmon’s memory. To the Catholic Church the sacred character of the Scriptures is a much more vital matter than it is to Dr. Salmon’s communion.

She has always cherished it with affection; she has preserved it for the long ages before Dr. Salmon’s Church came into existence. Her priests and her monks transcribed it, illustrated it, explained it. She is its sole legitimate interpreter now, as she has been since her foundation. Restriction she certainly has put on its reading, to ensure that it should not be abused; that it should be read with due reverence and with proper disposition. The Catholic Church will not permit ignorant men to dogmatise on the most sacred subjects, and to quote the Bible to confirm their ravings. The wisdom of her action in this matter is abundantly confirmed by the chaos existing in Dr. Salmon’s own communion, where unrestricted Bible-reading has given everyone a creed for himself — where ‘ orthodoxy is one’s own doxy and heterodoxy is everyone else’s doxy.’

Does Dr. Salmon think that the Bible is enhanced as a standard of truth by the profane brawlings of Salvationists and of Sunday street-preachers? Between the Protestantism of Lord Halifax or ‘Father’ Puller and the Protestantism of Dr. Salmon or Mr. Kensit, there are, no doubt, many shades of opinion, not in very exact harmony; but all alike, and with equal logic, spring from that principle which Dr. Salmon regards as the ‘best safeguard against Romanism’ (page 15)— and he might have added, with much more truth, as ‘the best safeguard against’ the possibility of one fold and one shepherd.’ He admits ‘that the members of so many different sects each find in the Bible the doctrines they have been trained to expect to find there’ (page 110), and in this, as in other matters, ‘the tree is known by its fruit.’

Dr. Salmon thus is completely notoriously wrong, both as to our theory and practice as regards the reading of the Bible. But it would be unfair to him to pass over the following pretty specimen of his theological reasoning, in which he gives his students the key to our alleged hostility to the Bible: —

If you let people read the Bible, you cannot prevent them from reflecting on what they read. Suppose, for an example, a Roman Catholic reads the Bible: how can you be sure that he will not notice himself, or have it pointed out to him, that, whereas Pius IX. could not write a single Encyclical in which the name of the Virgin Mary did not occupy a prominent place, we have in the Bible twenty-one Apostolic letters, and her name does not occur in one of them. [p. 123]

And suppose that a Catholic does read the Bible, he finds it stated there that the Blessed Virgin is the Mother of God, full of grace, and blessed amongst women; and ‘how can you be sure that he will not notice himself or have it pointed out to him’ that in the whole course of the Bible no other creature is addressed in such language? May not a Catholic, then, infer from all this that the Blessed Virgin is more holy, more perfect, than other creatures, and therefore, entitled to some higher honour than they? And the silence of the twenty-one Apostolic letters does not in the slightest degree affect this inference. Therefore, the Catholic who reads the Bible actually finds in it the foundation of his devotion to the Blessed Mother of God. This must be disappointing to Dr. Salmon. But Dr. Salmon himself believes in the fallibility of the Church, in the all-sufficiency of Scripture, in justification by faith alone, and these doctrines ‘do not occur in one of the twenty-one Apostolic letters.’

Now, if he may believe those doctrines, notwithstanding the silence of the ‘twenty-one Apostolic letters,’ why should he make that silence an argument against Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin? Dr. Salmon knows quite well the occasional character of those Apostolic letters. Each was called forth by some special circumstances, and in none of them is there a cursus theologiae. The silence of such letters, then, is no argument against the honour given by Catholics to the Blessed Mother of God, and Dr. Salmon has gained nothing for his Bible-reading theory by casting his last stone at her. He probably thought the argument good enough for his students, and they, too, may have thought it a master-piece of logical acumen; but once they get into controversy with any well-educated Catholic, they are certain to be rudely awakened to the defective character of their early training, and made to feel that, instead of arguing against Catholic doctrines, they are simply beating the air.


Go to Part 2


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Photo credit: George Salmon, from Cassell’s universal portrait gallery: no later than 1895 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
Summary: Jeremiah Murphy, D.D. made a devastating reply to anti-Catholic George Salmon’s rantings in a multi-part review in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record in 1901-1902.
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