Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 4

Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 4 March 15, 2023

. . . 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

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 of this series:

Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 1 [3-10-23]

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. 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. X: September 1901
Dr. Salmon’s ‘Infallibility’ (Part 4)
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. St. John Henry Cardinal Newman’s words will be in green]
There is no denying that Dr. Salmon has shown very considerable cleverness in his attack on the Catholic Church. But it is cleverness very sadly misapplied. And as he is very far from being the most formidable of her assailants, he cannot expect to succeed where even the gates of hell are foredoomed to fail. His charge against the Church of new doctrines and new articles of faith, of change in doctrine, is, to the unthinking, or to those who have been taught to think wrongly, the most grave that could be made. And it is also one of the most groundless, and can be made only by one who does not know, or who knowingly misrepresents the office and character of the Church. With the Catholic Church, the true Church of Christ, new doctrines are a simple impossibility. She received from her Divine Founder the entire, full, complete deposit of faith. She has held it full and complete from the beginning; and she shall hold it unimpaired till the end of time.
As St. Vincent of Lerins says: ‘She loses nothing that is hers; she adopts nothing that is not hers.’ What Dr. Salmon calls a ‘new doctrine’ is simply a statement of some truth that has been in her keeping from the beginning; and in taking that statement from the deposit of faith, and in teaching it to her children, the Church is protected from error by the Holy Ghost the Spirit of Truth, ‘Going therefore teach all nations . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.’ ‘The Paraclete, the Holy Ghost whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind whatsoever I shall have said to you.’ Here, then, is the Church’s warrant to teach. Her premises are God’s own revelation, infallibly true, fixed and definite from the first; and in her process of interpreting it, the Holy Ghost is her guide, and owing to His guidance she cannot betray her trust: she can neither mistake the extent of her commission, nor the meaning of any portion of it. And when therefore, under such guidance, she declares, that a certain doctrine is contained in the deposit of faith, is part of it, her declaration must be true, and therefore the doctrine is not new, but as old as the Christian Revelation.

This follows directly and immediately from the Infallibility of the Church; and the Catholic who accepts that doctrine, accepts all this as a matter of course. He knows that in believing what the Church teaches, he is believing what our Lord revealed to His Apostles, and what they committed to the Church from which he now accepts it. And he not only accepts the actual teaching of the Church, but he is prepared, and for the very same reason that he accepts what she now teaches, to accept also whatever she may in the future make known to him. Any increase of religious knowledge imparted to him by the Church is welcome to the Catholic, its truth and its antiquity are to him a foregone conclusion. He knows that it is part of that body of truth which he had already accepted unreservedly, and in its entirety — that it is a fuller meaning of some truth which he had already believed — that it now comes to him on the same authority on which all his faith rests; and by reason of that additional light and knowledge he accepts now explicitly what he had hitherto implicitly believed.

This is no more than saying that a Catholic is a Catholic, that he really believes what he professes to believe; and for such a person new doctrines in the sense imputed by Dr. Salmon are impossible. By new doctrines Dr. Salmon means doctrines that were not revealed at all — false doctrines — and he gives as instances the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility. But Catholics know that the Church defines nothing that was not in her keeping from the beginning — nothing new — and the very fact of their definition is to the Catholic a proof that these doctrines formed a part of the original revelation; and later on Dr. Salmon shall be supplied with evidence of the unmistakable traces of these doctrines in Catholic

The mental attitude of Catholics Dr. Salmon does not realise at all, and hence it is that he makes such silly charges against us. He never loses an opportunity of saying hard things of the Oxford converts for their unpardonable sin of abandoning Protestantism in order to save their souls. He says of them : —

Perhaps those who then submitted to the Church of Rome scarcely realised all that was meant in their profession of faith in their new guide. They may have thought it meant no more than belief that everything the Church of Rome then taught was infallibly true. Events soon taught them that it meant besides that they must believe everything that that Church might afterwards teach, and her subsequent teaching put so great a strain on the faith of the new converts that in a few cases it was more than it could bear. (Page 19.)

And later on (page 62) he gives Mr. Capes as an instance of one who found the strain too great, though, according to Dr. Salmon’s own version of the case, Mr. Capes left the Catholic Church because he refused to accept a doctrine which the Church taught at the very time he joined her. Now, if any of the converts alluded to came into the Church in the state of mind described by Dr. Salmon, they really were not Catholics at all. They had not accepted that which is the foundation of the whole Catholic system — the authority of the teaching Church, which involves belief in anything the Church may teach in the future as well as acceptance of what she actually teaches. And converts coming into the Church are well aware of this, for it is fully explained to them. The Catholic Church does not blindfold those who come to join her, notwithstanding Dr. Salmon’s confident hypothesis. It is not to make up numbers that she receives converts. They must be instructed before they are received, and no priest could, without sin, knowingly receive into the Church one so ill-instructed as Dr. Salmon supposes some of the converts to have been.

Dr. Salmon says of Mr. Mallock that ‘he criticised other people’s beliefs and disbeliefs so freely, that it was hard to know what he believed or did not believe himself’ (page 60). These words are strictly applicable to Dr. Salmon himself. With the exception of a few vague references to what  ‘a prayer-full man,’ may find in the Bible, he gives no clue to his own creed. He boasts of ‘the strength of his conviction of the baselessness of the case made by the Romish advocates’ (page 14); he is quite sure that all distinctive Catholic doctrines form ‘no part of primitive Christianity.’ But this is all negative, and all through his Lectures his teaching is of the same sort. Thus he tells us what he does not believe; but as to what he does believe, we are left totally in the dark. But such is his idea of faith, that it really does not matter much, whether the articles of his creed be few or many, for his faith is purely human. It is not the argument of things unseen; not the testimony ‘greater than that of man;’ not an assent in nothing wavering; not therefore the root and foundation of justification, but a merely human faith, probable, hesitating, doubtful, with no higher certainty than mere unaided human reason can give it. Dr. Salmon believes in the truths of Christianity (if he believes them at all) on exactly the same grounds, and with exactly the same certainty, as he believes in the career of Julius Caesar. Tacitus and Suetonius give him the same certainty as St. Matthew and St. Luke. His own words are: —

That Jesus Christ lived more than eighteen centuries ago; that He died, rose again, and taught such and such doctrines, are things proved by the same kind of argument as that by which we know that Augustus was Emperor of Rome, and that there is such a country as China. Whether or not He founded a Church; whether He bestowed the gift of infallibility on it, and whether He fixed the seat of that infallibility at Rome, are things to be proved, if proved at all, by arguments which a logician would class as probable. (Page 63.) . . . We are certain, for instance, that there was such a man as Julius Caesar. We may call ourselves certain about the principal events of his life; but when you go into details, and inquire, for instance, what knowledge he had of Cataline’s conspiracy, you soon come to questions, to which you can only give probable, or doubtful answers, and it is just the same as to the facts of Christianity. (Page 74.)

And for all this he had prepared his bearers by telling them (page 48) that ‘it must be remembered that our belief must in the end rest on an act of our own judgment, and can never attain any higher certainty than whatever that may be able to give us ’ (page 48). These sentiments are again and again repeated in Dr. Salmon’s Lectures; and in them we have the key to the nature and value of his faith, as well as to the character of his declamation against the Catholic Church. He devotes a great part of his Third Lecture to the right of private judgment, or rather he insists on the necessity of private judgment (page 48). And here again he transcribes almost word for word, and without acknowledgment, Whately’s Cautions for the Times. All through the lecture be is confounding private judgment with the legitimate exercise of reason, and he so represents Catholics as if they condemned all exercise of reason with reference to the truths of faith.

Now, Dr. Salmon must be well aware that private judgment has a well-recognised meaning in theological controversy. It means the opinion of the individual as opposed to external authority; it means the right of the individual to determine for himself, and quite independently of all external control, what he is to believe or not to believe. But private judgment is not a synonym for reason, and in condemning it in its controversial sense, Catholics do not interfere in the slightest degree with the legitimate use of reason. Let us use our reason by all means. St. Paul reminds us of that duty. But in establishing His Church, and commissioning her to teach the nations, our Lord Himself condemned private judgment in its controversial sense, and the Catholic Church only repeats that condemnation. We must use our reason. A fool cannot make an act of faith. And this is really all that Dr. Salmon’s declamation comes to.

But in his zeal to make a case against us the Doctor shows that he has himself no divine supernatural faith at all. ‘Our belief,’ he says, must in the end rest on an act of our own judgment, and can never attain any higher certainty than whatever that may be able to give us’ (page 48). This statement is completely subversive of faith; it is an enunciation of rationalism, pure and simple.  If Dr. Salmon’s belief is to rest ultimately on his own judgment, then his faith is human, and Huxley, whose judgment was at least as reliable as Dr. Salmon’s, had as good grounds for rejecting the Bible as Dr. Salmon has for accepting it. It is well that he has stated so clearly the fundamental principle of Protestantism — a principle which robs faith of its supernatural character, and which has given to Protestant countries as many creeds as there are individuals. If each one’s faith is to rest ultimately on each one’s judgment, we are not to be surprised at the harmony and unity that are a note of what Dr. Salmon calls his Church. Pope’s lines are strictly true of it: —

‘Tis with our judgments, as our watches, none Go just alike, yet each believes his own.

It must be presumed that Dr. Salmon is contemplating that faith without which ‘it is impossible to please God’ — supernatural, divine faith — but he is completely astray as to its motive and nature. Supernatural divine faith does not rest ultimately ‘on an act of our own judgment,’ but on the authority of God revealing the truth we are to believe. We believe the Trinity, the Incarnation, Redemption, not because ‘an act of our own judgment’ shows them to be true, but because God has revealed them. Dr. Salmon confounds the motive of faith with the motives of credibility. For an act of faith we require a revelation and evidence of the fact of revelation. The motives of credibility are those reasons which satisfy us that the revelation is from God — that God has spoken. They are those which establish the divine origin of the Christian faith generally — miracles, prophecies, the wonderful propagation and preservation of the faith, its salutary effect on mankind, etc. All these supply us with a wide and legitimate field for the exercise of our reason, and within that field Catholics do exercise their reason, and according to their circumstances they are bound to do so.

These motives of credibility lead us to believe that a revelation has been made; they are a preliminary to faith, but they are not the motive of faith, or any part of that motive. They do not enter into the act of faith at all. Because of them we believe in the existence of the revelation, but the revelation itself we believe on the authority of God Whose word it is. And belief resting on any motive inferior to this would not be divine faith at all, and could not be the means of saving our souls. Dr. Salmon tells his students that faith is the outcome of their own judgment (and it is to be hoped that they are all profound thinkers), but St. Paul tells them: ‘By grace you are saved, through faith, and this not of ourselves, for it is the gift of God.’ [Eph 2:8] And the same saint said to the Thessalonians: ‘When you had received of us, the word of the hearing of God, you received it not as the word of men, but (as it is indeed) the word of God, Who worketh in you that have believed.’ [1 Thess 2:13] According to St. Paul there is in faith something which we do not owe to our own talents or judgments, but which is God’s gift directly. And in strict accordance with this doctrine of St. Paul, is the teaching of the Vatican Council. It says: —

But that faith which is the beginning of man’s salvation, the Catholic Church professes to be a supernatural virtue, whereby enlightened, and aided by God’s grace, we believe those things which He has revealed to be true, not because of the intrinsic truth of them, known from the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God revealing them.

And the Council pronounces an anathema against those who hold, as Dr. Salmon does, that for divine faith it is not necessary that the revelation should be believed on the authority of God revealing. With this supernatural divine faith illuminating and elevating the soul, what a sad contrast is presented by Dr. Salmon’s bald rationalism — ‘the act of his own judgment.’ And the saddest feature of the contrast is the spiritual blight and ruin which Dr. Salmon’s theory involves. Supernatural faith is necessary for salvation, and the Doctor’s faith is not supernatural. It is purely human, and can have no more influence in saving souls than the latest theory on electricity. And as Dr. Salmon’s faith is purely human, he is quite logical (though quite wrong), in saying that it can attain to no higher certainty than reason cam give it; and that his belief in our Lord’s life and teaching comes to him in the same way as his belief in the career of Augustus Caesar — that it is merely a hesitating, doubting, absent, at best only a probability.

The Doctor professes a profound knowledge of, and an intimate acquaintance with, Scripture; and yet nothing can be more clear and explicit than the Scriptural condemnation of his theory of faith. In texts almost innumerable faith is spoken of, not as the doubting, hesitating, probable opinion that he describes it, but as an assent to God’s word full, firm, and unhesitating. ‘If you shall have faith, and doubt not,’ said our Lord to His disciples, [Mt 21:21] where He clearly describes doubt as incompatible with faith. ‘Therefore, let all the house of Israel know most certainly that God hath made both Lord and Christ, this same Jesus whom you have crucified.’ [Acts 2:36] ‘For I am certain that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ [Rom 8:38-39] ‘For I know whom I have believed, and I am certain that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.’ [2 Tim 1:12] ‘Ask in faith, nothing wavering,’ says St. James [Jas 1:6].

Nothing can be clearer then, than that faith , according to Scripture, is a firm, unhesitating, unwavering, assent to God’s word. Those who hesitate are described as having ‘little faith’ or no faith. Faith and doubt are regarded as incompatible. And this is precisely the teaching of the Catholic Church. The Vatican Council, in the 3rd chapter De Fide, tells us that we are bound to give to God’s revelation ‘the full obedience of our intellects and of our wills.’ And it further asserts that ‘our faith rests on the most firm of all foundations ’ — the authority of God brought home to us by His Church. When, therefore, Dr. Salmon told his students that ‘our belief must in the end rest on an act of our own judgment,’ and can have no higher authority, he is con tradicting the express language of Scripture as well as the express teaching of the Catholic Church; and he is leading his students astray on the most vitally important of all subjects — the nature of saving faith. It is clear that he has no real conception of any supernatural element in faith; and hence it is that he seeks to ridicule the idea that there is any such, or that Catholics can have any certainty in matters of faith above what unaided reason can give.

I mean [he says] to say something about the theory of the supernatural gift of faith as laid down at the Vatican Council, merely remarking now that the theory of a supernatural endowment superseding in matters of religion the ordinary laws of reasoning, an endowment to question which involves deadly peril, deters Roman Catholics from all straightforward seeking for truth. (Pages 62, 63.)

And what he has to say is this: — ‘They are not naturally infallible, but God has made them so. It is by a supernatural gift of faith that they accept the Church’s teaching, and have a divinely inspired certainty that they are in the right’ (page 81). And he quotes the Vatican Council in proof of his statement, though there is nothing whatever in the Council that would give him the slightest countenance. We do not claim any gift, supernatural or otherwise, ‘superseding in matters of religion the ordinary laws of reasoning.’ These laws we respect and adhere to with far more consistency and persistency than Dr. Salmon shows in his own conduct. If misquotation and misrepresentation be in accordance with ‘the ordinary laws of reasoning,’ then Dr. Salmon is a profound logician! We do not claim to be infallible, either naturally, or supernaturally; we do not claim ‘a divinely inspired certainty that we are in the right,’ and the Vatican Council give no grounds whatever for those ridiculous statements. We have in the Church an infallible guide, and as long as we follow her guidance we are certain of the truth of our faith. But we are not infallible, for through our own fault we may cease to follow the Church’s guidance, and thus may fall away, and lose the faith. As long as we are loyal children of the Church we are certain of the truth of our faith, but that certainty does not come to us by inspiration.

We do not then make the claims attributed to us by Dr. Salmon. But we do claim with the Vatican Council, and hold as of faith, that we cannot make a salutary act of faith without actual grace enlightening our intellects to see the truth and inclining our wills to embrace it. And this claim of ours is not new, as Dr. Salmon ought to know. Our Lord Himself says: — ‘No man can come to Me, except the Father, who hath sent Me, draw him.’ [Jn 6:44] ‘By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is a gift of God.’ [Eph 2:8] Actual grace is necessary for all those acts that prepare us for justification, and especially necessary for the more arduous and difficult acts which are opposed to our own passions and prejudices, and Dr. Salmon must be very oblivious of early Church history if he venture to doubt this. To say nothing of other fathers the writings of St. Augustine against Semi-Pelagianism would supply him with abundant proofs of the necessity of illuminating and helping grace, and would show him also that only heretics questioned that necessity. The Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529) in its seventh canon says: —

If anyone asserts that by our natural powers we shall determine or embrace any good thing that pertains to eternal life, or that we shall assent, as we ought, to the salutary preaching of the Gospel without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, who gives to all sweetness in assenting and in believing the truth, that person is deceived by the heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God saying in the Gospel ‘without Me you can do nothing’ (John xv. 5), or that of the Apostle, ‘not that wo are able to think anything of ourselves, as from ourselves, but all our sufficiency is from God’ (2 Cor. iii. 5).

The sentiment reprobated in such forcible language in this canon is exactly Dr. Salmon’s, and it did not occur to him when he ridiculed the statement of the Vatican Council as false and new, that that statement was taken word for word from the canon of the Council of Orange just mentioned. If the Doctor had given some time and thought to the study of the important and difficult subject on which he lectured so glibly, he would not have made such an exhibition of his levity and of his ignorance by ridiculing as false and new a doctrine which our Blessed Lord Himself revealed most explicitly, and which His Church has held and taught ever since her foundation. Cardinal Newman, so frequently misquoted by Dr. Salmon, puts this matter, with his wonted force and clearness, as follows: —

Faith is the gift of God, and not a mere act of our own, which we are free to exert when we will. It is quite distinct from an exercise of reason though it follows upon it. I may feel the force of the argument for the Divine origin of the Church I may see that I ought to believe, and yet I may be unable to believe. . . Faith is not a mere conviction in reason; it is a firm assent; it is a clear certainty, greater than any other certainty, and this is wrought in the mind by the grace of God, and by it alone. As then men may be convinced, and not act according to their conviction, so they may be convinced, and not believe according to their conviction. . . . In a word, the arguments for religion do not compel anyone to believe, just as arguments for good conduct do not compel anyone to obey. Obedience is the consequence of willing to obey, and faith is the consequence of willing to believe. We may see what is right, whether in matters of faith or obedience, of ourselves, but we cannot will what is right without the grace of God. [Discourses to Mixed Congregations, Dis. XI. pp.  260, 261. Ed. 1862]

Instead of reading such extracts for his students, Dr. Salmon falls back on ‘an act of his own judgment,’ and with very unsatisfactory results. After his dissertation on private judgment he proceeds as follows, feeling apparently that the Catholic Church must go down before his assault:—

We have the choice whether we shall exercise our private judgment in one act or in a great many; but exercise it in one way or another we must. We may apply our private judgment separately to the different questions in controversy — purgatory, transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and so forth — and come to our own conclusions on each, or we may apply our private judgment to the question whether the Church of Rome is infallible, etc. (Page 48.) . . . It is certain enough that what God revealed is true; but, if it is not certain that He has revealed the infallibility of the Roman Church, then we cannot have certain assurance of the truth of that doctrine, or of anything that is founded on it. (Pages 63, 64.)

Here again the Doctor is illogical and misleading. He will have to determine whether the Church of Christ is infallible and indefectible also; and since this is certain and has been proved, he will then have to exercise his judgment in determining which of the existing bodies is that Church of Christ. It must, at all events, profess the doctrine of infallibility, for that doctrine is revealed and true; but since only one of the competitors holds that doctrine, it follows that, if the Church of Christ be existing on earth at all, it must be that one which Dr. Salmon calls the Church of Rome. This is the logical way for Dr. Salmon to use his reason, and it will lead to conclusions very different from those of his lectures. It is a wide field, and a legitimate one, for the exercise of his judgment. But to apply it ‘separately to purgatory, transubstantiation, and the invocation of saints’ is to abuse it. Only the Church can speak with authority on such questions.

These are doctrines that cannot be proved as it is proved that Augustus was Emperor of Rome or that there is such a country as China and faith founded on such arguments will avail very little for Dr. Salmon in the day of his need. It was not faith founded on such arguments that gave St. Paul the certainty of which he speaks in his Epistle to the Romans [8:38]; it was not such faith that enabled St. Stephen to ‘see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ [Acts 7:55]; it was not such faith that sustained St. Laurence on the gridiron, or that ever enabled anyone to ‘take up his cross and follow’ our Divine Lord. Such faith as Dr. Salmon contemplates can bring no real consolation in this life, and can inspire no hope for the life to come. Resting on an act of his own judgment, like his belief in the exploits of Caesar or Napoleon Buonaparte, it does not go outside the sphere of mere reason; and hence it is that he seems to know nothing of the elevating, assuring, sustaining character of divine faith, and nothing of the effect of grace on the soul.

Grace and the supernatural are to Dr. Salmon unintelligible terms. He cannot enter into the views of Catholics regarding them; he cannot understand the certainty, the peace of soul, the ‘sweetness in believing,’ which the gift of faith brings to Catholics. All this he caricatures, though he cannot comprehend it. By pandering to the prejudices of young men not overburthened with knowledge, he may secure an audience in his class-room and the character of champion of Protestantism, but he should not forget that these young men have souls to save, and that it is only divine faith can save them. His references to ‘the prayerful man’ and to the Bible as a safeguard against Romanism are vague platitudes. The private judgment which he extols used to be the Protestant substitute for Pope and Church; but 1 modern criticism’ has killed it, and all Dr. Salmon’s art cannot bring it back to life. For the advocates of the Bible, interpreted by private judgment, the vital question now is: How much of the Bible is left for private judgment to interpret? And if Dr. Salmon had given his attention to this question, his time would have been more usefully as well as more charitably spent than it is in bearing false witness against us.

Dr. Salmon was able to give his students the welcome assurance that Catholics were so shattered by the logic of controversialists of his own class and calibre that new methods of defence had been recently resorted to, but, of course, with no prospect of success. The new defences are Newman’s Theory of Development, and the theory contained in his Grammar of Assent. These were, he told them, specially designed to meet the exigencies of controversy, but have failed to do so. In his First Lecture Dr. Salmon warned his students not to identify the statements of particular divines with the official teaching of the Catholic Church, and yet he is doing just that himself all through his Lectures. The works named are represented by him as if they were the very foundation of the Catholic system, essential to its existence. That he should have introduced them into his argument at all, shows how confidently he relied on the intellectual character of his audience. For surely Cardinal Newman is not the Catholic Church, and the Church has not adopted the works named, nor given any official sanction to either of them; and therefore she is in no sense whatever responsible for them, and whether the theories and arguments of the works named be sound or unsound, the Church is in no way concerned.

The Grammar of Assent is, as the very name implies, an attempt to explain the mental process by which men arrive at their beliefs. The greater part of the book has just as much interest for Protestants as for Catholics. Only one section of the fifth chapter has any special interest for Catholics, and even that section is merely explanatory, showing how the philosophical principles laid down in the previous chapter may be applied to dogmatic truths. The late Cardinal Cullen said of the Grammar of Assent that it was ‘a hard nut to crack,’ and Dr. Salmon does not seem to have seriously attempted the operation. And after all his declamation he is forced to admit that Catholics are in no sense concerned with the book. He says: —

When Newman’s book first came out one could constantly see traces of its influences in Roman Catholic articles in magazines and reviews. Now it seems to have dropped very much out of sight, and the highest Roman Catholic authorities lay quite a different basis for their faith. (Page 78.)

The basis of Catholic faith has been laid down not by ‘Roman Catholic authorities’ but by our Blessed Lord Himself, and considered, as an attempt to use the Grammar of Assent, as a weapon against that faith, the net result of Dr. Salmon’s long lecture is — nothing . Let us see how he succeeds with the Essay on Development.

It is, he says, a theory devised to cover our retreat before the overwhelming force of Protestant logic. ‘The Romish champions, beaten out of the open field, have shut themselves up in the fortress of infallibility’ (page 46). But while retreating ‘the first strategic movement towards the rear was the doctrine of development, which has seriously modified the old theory of tradition’ (page 31). It must be owing to his propensity to misrepresent that he substitutes the absurd expression ‘doctrine of development’ for Newman’s own words ‘development of doctrine’; but he distinctly states that it was an invention to meet a difficulty.  ‘The starting of this theory,’ he says, ‘exhibits plainly the total rout which the champions of the Romish Church experienced in the battle they attempted to fight on the field of history . . .  it is, in short, an attempt to enable men beaten off the platform of history to hang on to it by the eyelids.’ Though this extract would lead one to infer that the theory was not previously heard of he says, lower down, that the theory was not new, for it was maintained by Mochler and Perrone, and even a century earlier than their time.

But Newman’s book had the effect of making it popular to an extent it had never been before, and of causing its general adoption by Romish advocates, who are now content to exchange tradition, which their predecessors had made the basis of their system, for this new foundation of development. (Page 31.) . . . When Newman’s book appeared I looked with much curiosity to see whether the heads of the Church to which he was joining himself would accept the defence made by their new convert, the book having been written before he had joined them . . .  it seemed a complete abandonment of the old traditional theory of the advocates of Rome. (Page 33.)

Later on he says: ‘This theory of development, so fashionable thirty years ago, has now dropped into the background’ (page 41). And later on still, in his Seventh Lecture, he says the theory ‘has now become fashionable’ (page 113). What are we to think of this extraordinary theory, or the data given by Dr. Salmon? It is a new theory, and an old one, accepted by us and discarded; vital to us, and useless to us, and all, at the same time, according to this inimitable logician! Leaving to his juvenile controversialists the task of assimilating this mass of contradictions, it is quite sufficient to remind the Regius Professor that the Catholic Church is in no sense whatever responsible for the Essay on Development. It was written, as Dr. Salmon himself states, before its author became a Catholic; and if the Doctor had looked at the preface of the Essay he would have seen the following: ‘His (the author’s) first act on his conversion was to offer his work for revision to the proper authorities; but the offer was declined, on the ground that it was written and partly printed before he was a Catholic’ (Pref. p. x).

This shows how little the Catholic Church is concerned with the theory or with the arguments of the Essay; and how grossly unfair, even to his own students, is the mass of misrepresentation piled up by Dr. Salmon, on the false assumption that the Church is concerned with it. The development of Christian doctrine is as old as Christianity itself. St. Peter’s first sermon on the first Pentecost is an instance of it, and so too are the proofs and explanations of doctrine to be found in the New Testament, and in the early councils and early fathers[.] St. Vincent of Lerins propounded it as a formal theory. So far from supplanting tradition and the fathers, as Dr. Salmon says it does, it is an explanation of both; and if there be anything peculiar in Newman’s theory, he is himself responsible as his own words testify. If Dr. Salmon had given as much of his time and talent to the earnest search for truth, as he devoted to the propagation of calumnies on the Catholic Church, it would have been all the better for himself, and for his students also.

Before passing from the subject of Development, it may be well to consider the value of any interesting discovery which Dr. Salmon has made in the history of the theory. He says: ‘But more than a century before Dr. Newman’s time the theory of Development had played its part in the Roman Catholic controversy, only then it was the Protestant combatant who brought that theory forward, and the Roman Catholic who repudiated it’ (page 35). The allusion is to the controversy between Bossuet and the Calvinist Jurieu, and Dr. Salmon goes on to say : —

The theses of his [Bossuet’s] book called the History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, was that the doctrine of the true Church is always the same, whereas Protestants are at variance with each other, and with themselves. Bousset [sic] was replied to by a Calvinist minister named Jurieu. The line Jurieu took was to dispute the assertion that the doctrine of the true is always the same. He maintained the doctrine of development in its full extent, asserting that the truth of God was only known by instalments (par parcelles), that the theology of the fathers was imperfect and fluctuating, and that Christian theology has been constantly going on towards perfection. He illustrated his theory by examples of important doctrines, concerning which he alleged the teaching of the early Church to have been defective or uncertain, of which it is enough here to quote that he declared that the mystery of the Trinity, though of the last importance, and essential to Christianity, remained as every one knows undeveloped (informe) down to the first Council of Nice [Nicaea], and even down to that of Constantinople. (Pages 35, 36.)

And Dr. Salmon adds that even ‘the Jesuit Petavius had . . . made very similar assertions concerning the immaturity of the teaching of the early fathers’ (page 86). And his conclusion is this: ‘It seems then a very serious matter if the leading authorities of the Roman Church have now to own that in the main point at issue between Bossuet and Jurieu, the Calvinist minister was in the right, and their own champion in the wrong’ (page 37). According to Dr. Salmon then Bossuet repudiated the development of doctrine in the sense in which Catholics now admit it, while Jurieu maintained in precisely the same sense as we now hold it; and moreover the learned Jesuit Petavius agreed with Jurieu.

Neither of these statements has the slightest foundation in fact. Dr. Salmon says he has taken from Bossuet’s Premier Avertissement aux Protestans. They are not taken from the Premier Avertissement for they are not contained in it; on the contrary it supplies conclusive evidence to contradict each of these statements. Bossuet addressing Protestants in the third section of the Avertissement says: ‘What your minister regards as intolerable is, that I should dare to state that the faith does not change in the true Church, and that the truth coming from God was perfect from the first.’ Now Bossuet immediately explains what he means by this statement, for he immediately quotes St. Vincent of Lerins in confirmation of it: —

The Church of Christ, the faithful guardian of the truths committed to her care, never changes anything in them; she takes nothing away; she adds nothing; she rejects nothing necessary; she takes up nothing superfluous. Her whole care is to explain those truths that were originally committed to her, to confirm those that have been sufficiently explained, to guard those that have been defined and confirmed, and to transmit to posterity in writings those things that she received from the fathers by tradition. (Sec. 4 )

And having thus defined his own teaching Bossuet lays down, in Sec. 5, that his proposition which the minister thought so strange is exactly that of St. Vincent of Lerins, and he adds: ‘But it is not sufficient for that father to establish the same truth which I have laid down as a foundation, but he even establishes it by the very same principle, namely, that the truth coming from God was perfect from the first’ (Sec. 5); and he then quotes St. Vincent as saying : —

I cannot sufficiently express my surprise, how men are so proud, so blind, so impious, so carried away by error, that not content with the rule of faith, once given to the faithful, and handed down from those who went before, they are every day looking for novelties, and are daily seeking to add, to change, or take away something from religion, as if it was not a heavenly truth, which once revealed is sufficient, but only a human institution, which can only come to perfection by continual changing, or more correctly, by every day finding out some defect (Sec. 5.)

And still quoting St. Vincent, Bossuet adds: —

But in order the better to understand the sentiments of St. Vincent we must look at his proof. And the proof of the unchangeable character of the doctrine is St. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: ‘Oh, Timothy, guard the deposit’; that is, as he explains it, not what you have yourself discovered, but what has been entrusted to you, what you have received from others, and not at all what you might have invented yourself. (Sec. 5.)

From Bossuet’s own words, therefore, in the Avertissement relied on by Dr. Salmon, it is perfectly clear that his teaching as to the unchangeable character of Catholic faith, and the explanation of doctrines under the control and guidance of the teaching Church, is the same as Catholic theologians have always held and taught. It is the teaching given by St. Paul to his disciple Timothy, inculcated by St. Vincent in the beautiful language already quoted from him, and reiterated in St. Vincent’s own words in the acts of theVatican Council. Dr. Salmon professes to have read the Avertissement, and he gives in his own book the acts of the Vatican, and he does not see how they agree in this matter.

All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.

The character given of Jurieu by his co-religionist and contemporary Bayle, would not lead one to attach much importance to his views on theology, or indeed on any other subject. His views on Development Dr. Salmon professes to have taken from Bossuet’s Avertissement, and Dr. Salmon’s contention is, that our theory now was Jurieu’s theory then, and that it seems a very serious matter if ‘the leading authorities in the Boman Church have now to own …. that the Calvinist minister was in the right, and their own champion in the wrong ’ (page 37). Now, when we refer to the Avertissement, from which Dr. Salmon has taken his information, we find Jurieu’s theory of Development described by Bossuet as follows: ‘It may be alleged that the changes were only verbal in the terms, and that in reality the Church’s belief was always the same. But this is not true . . .  for the way in which we have seen that the ancients speak of the generation of the Son of God, and of His inequality with the Father, convey impressions very false and very different from ours.’ (Sec. 6.) Again from Sec. 8 we learn that according to Jurieu the early Christians did not believe that the Person of the Son of God was eternal, and consequently did not believe that the Trinity was from eternity.

Again in Sec. 9 we are told that according to Jurieu the early Christians did not believe that God was immutable. In Sec. 10 we are told that according to Jurieu the first Christians believed that the Divine Persons were not equal, and from Sec. 13 we learn that, according to Jurieu, the early Christians did not know the mystery of the Incarnation. It is needless to quote any further the blasphemies of this man. It is quite unnecessary to inquire whether Jurieu really held these blasphemies, though Bossuet convicts him out of his own mouth. Such at all events is the theory of Jurieu from the very text which Dr. Salmon professes to have quoted. According to Jurieu the early Christians were not only ignorant of true doctrines, but they held for at least three centuries doctrines that were blasphemous, and subversive of all true faith, and that from this mass of blasphemous error truth gradually (par parcelles) came forth. And with this text and proof before him Dr. Salmon does not hesitate to tell his students that Jurieu’s position then was the Catholic position now, and that ‘in Newman’s Essay on Development everything that had been said by Jurieu and by Petavius . . .  is said again, and said more strongly’ (page 37).

And what has Petavius done that he should be classed with such a person as Jurieu? Surely his character as one of the greatest scholars of his age, and one of the leading theologians of the great Jesuit Order, should have made even Dr. Salmon hesitate to link him with such an ignorant fanatic. But the most extraordinary feature of the charge against Petavius is that the very text on which the charge is grounded proves it to be utterly and entirely false — is simply a formal refutation of the charge. Again Dr. Salmon takes his information from the Avertissement, and the only refer ence to Petavius is in Sec. 28, in which Bossuet undertakes to prove ‘that the passage of Petavius quoted by Jurieu, states the direct contradiction of what that minister attributes to him.’ And Bossuet proves his assertion conclusively from the text of Petavius. There was question only of the doctrine of the Trinity, and Bossuet shows that according to Petavius all the fathers agree as to the mystery, though they sometimes differ as to the manner of explaining certain things connected with it.

In the less important matters some few, very few, have erred. Some have spoken inaccurately but the great multitude of the fathers have been as accurate in their language as they were orthodox in their faith. This, according to Bossuet, is the teaching of Petavius, and anyone who consults Petavius himself will find Bossuet’s statement quite correct. The text will be found in the preface to the second volume of Petavius’ works, c. 1, n. 10 and 12 of Zachary’s edition, Venice, 1757. Now, though Petavius directly contradicts Jurieu, Dr. Salmon declares that they agree, and by some clever mental process he finds that Newman agrees with both. In proof of this he says that ‘Newman begins by owning the unserviceableness of St. Vincent’s maxim “quod semper”’ (page 37).

Dr. Salmon himself has made the same admission at page 270. He adds that Newman ‘confesses that is impossible by means of this maxim (unless indeed a very forced interpretation be put on it) to establish the articles of Pope Pius’ creed . . . impossible to show that these articles are any part of the faith of the Early Church’ (page 37). Dr. Salmon is here fully availing himself of his ‘advantage in addressing an audience all one way of thinking,’ and thus he is led again to attribute to Newman a statement that has no foundation in his text. Newman says nothing of what is attributed to him here. In speaking of St. Vincent’s maxim, Newman says that an unfair interpretation is put on the maxim by Protestants in order to make a case against the Catholic Church, and that for this unfair interpretation Protestants themselves suffer.

It admits [Newman says] of being interpreted in one of two ways: if it be narrowed for the purpose of disproving the Catholicity of the creed of Pope Pius, it becomes also an objection to the Athanasian; and if it be relaxed to admit the doctrines retained by the English Church, it no longer excludes certain doctrines of Rome which that Church denies. It cannot at once condemn St. Thomas and St. Bernard, and defend St. Athanasius and St. Gregory Nazianzen. [Essay on Development, p. 9]

And Newman adds: —

Let it not be for a moment supposed that I impugn the orthodoxy of the early divines, or the cogency of their testimony among fair inquirers: but I am trying them by that unfair interpretation of Vincentius which is necessary in order to make him available against the Church of Rome. [Ibid., p. 15]

This is Cardinal Newman’s real view as to the rule of St. Vincent of Lerins, very different from the view attributed to him by Dr. Salmon in his anxiety to make a case against the Catholic Church. And it is for this same object that Bossuet and Jurieu and Petavius are quoted by Dr. Salmon, to make them available against the Catholic Church. The attempt, however, is a miserable failure. In fact, no one can read the Avertissement, and read Dr. Salmon’s paraphrase of it, without feeling— well, that the Doctor is a very imaginative person, that he has a rather clever way of manipulating his authorities, that he is a sort of mesmeriser who can make his media say precisely what he wants them to say. His aim is, he says, not victory, but truth: but it must be admitted that he has a somewhat peculiar way of telling the truth. His manner of carrying on the ‘Controversy with Rome’ is in strict accordance with the time honoured traditions of Trinity College; and the College is, indeed, fortunate in securing the services of a regius professor who has such a profound knowledge of theology, and such a scrupulous regard for truth.



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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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