Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 6

Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 6 March 16, 2023

The Innumerable Perils of Perspicuity of Scripture and Private Judgment

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. 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]
Vol. XI: January 1902
Dr. Salmon’s ‘Infallibility’ (Part 6)
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. In this installment, I have omitted, for the sake of brevity and concision, significant portions that, in my opinion, were merely repeating past points made, as regards the authority and function of the Catholic Church, or examining fine and technical points of theology and authority that would be tedious and boring to the average reader]
Dr. Salmon is a theologian of unlimited resources, and this is shown conspicuously by his triumphant vindication of his rule of faith. It has been already shown, and on the clearest evidence, that the rule begets contradictory creeds almost without number; but, in this somewhat discouraging fact, the Doctor actually finds a proof of its divine origin.

The fact is [he says], what the existence of variations of belief among Christians really proves is, that our Master, Christ, has not done what Roman Catholic theory requires He should have done, namely, provided His people with means of such full and certain information on all points on which controversy can be raised, that there shall be no room for difference of opinion among them. But it is ridiculous to build on these variations an argument for the superiority of one sect over another. — (Page 87.)

The Doctor is quite correct in this last remark. ‘It is ridiculous’ to infer from these variations that one sect is better than another, for all are equally bad, all alike are blind leaders of the blind, and tend to the same abyss. The Church of God alone is the ark of salvation. She alone is proof against the gates of hell, — unchanged and unchangeable as a teacher and guardian of divine truth.

So anxious was our Blessed Lord Himself for unity of faith amongst men, that He prayed to His Eternal Father that His disciples should be one, even as He and the Father are one; and He established His Church and endowed it with supernatural attributes to generate and preserve that unity. ‘He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and others some evangelists, and others pastors and doctors, for the perfecting of the saints, and for the edifying of the body of Christ, until we all meet in the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . that henceforth we be no more children tossed to-and-fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.’ [Eph 4:11-14] His Apostles exhorted their followers to ‘preserve the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace.’ They preached ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism,’  and specially warned their followers against schisms. But Dr. Salmon is a man of accomplished facts. In his theology ‘whatever is, is right’ (except, of course, the Catholic Church, which must be wrong in every hypothesis). He sees around him creeds, whose name is legion, diametrically opposed on the most vital doctrines of Christianity, and in this very fact he finds a vindication of the rule which has generated, and which explains them all. Our Lord and His Apostles, no doubt, insist on unity of faith, and in the clearest possible language, but Dr. Salmon holds that they did not mean it, as is clearly shown by the almost numberless variations of existing sects.

This is a most convenient system of theology. It cannot be assailed, and so it need not be defended. Its variability enables it to assume different forms when seriously attacked, and thus it evades the grasp of logic as well as of common sense. It is a series of dissolving views. And as Dr. Salmon enjoys such unrestricted freedom of belief or disbelief, it is natural that he should sympathise with us, as victims of ‘Roman bondage,’ who are forced to surrender our liberty, our ‘most deep-rooted beliefs . . . solely in deference to external authority . . . though unable to see any flaw in the arguments’ for these beliefs (page 24). According to Dr. Salmon, we make an irrational surrender of our liberty, and in his great charity he is moved to pity us. But charity is said to begin at home; and now, what about the Doctor’s own liberty? He does not tell us what articles of the Christian faith he believes; but he tells us that they are contained in the Bible, and that he has satisfied himself that they are so contained. He must then have discovered, for certain, the meaning of those texts of Scripture in which his articles of faith are revealed. And if he have discovered for certain, the meaning of certain Scripture texts, he is no more free to reject that meaning than Catholics are to reject the teaching of the Church; he is as much bound to that meaning as we are to doctrines defined by the Church. There can be no liberty to reject the known truth.

And what, then, becomes of his boasted liberty? He is free only when he is ignorant. If he know the meaning of the text he is not free to reject it. If he have definite knowledge derived from Scripture he surrenders his liberty quite as much as a Catholic. But he surrenders to a human authority — to himself; whereas a Catholic surrenders his liberty in deference to an authority that is divine. Dr. Salmon, then, can claim the liberty of which he boasts only by the awkward admission, that he does not know for certain the meaning of a single text in his Bible. Such is the liberty which Dr. Salmon and his theologians enjoy; and such being the case the Bible is to them a very useful rule of faith. It enables the Doctor, and men like him, to profess belief in the Christian faith in general, without binding themselves to any particular dogma. With his theologians it serves its purpose as a war cry against us; — they could not, and their professor did not, analyse it. And the result of this liberty is apparent in every statement of so-called Protestant doctrine. They are vague, meaningless platitudes — the natural, the necessary result of the rule from which they come. Mr. Capes, whom Dr. Salmon quotes as a friendly witness (page 62), says of his Church: —

To speak of the Church of England, therefore, as constituting a realization of the apostolical ideal of Christian communion is, in my opinion, entirely to misconceive its real character. In reality, the Establishment is a vast anomaly, both in its origin as a creation of the law, and in the totally contradictory doctrines which it allows to be taught within its pale.

And after describing the internal confusion of the Establishment, Mr. Capes adds: —

In the midst of this confusion it is not to be doubted that the Church of England, which is the very embodiment of the idea of Christian dissensions, has proved itself a working institution on an immense scale.

And so enamoured is Mr. Capes of this theological bedlam that, like Dr. Salmon, he sees in its dissensions ‘a startling proof that, for the present, at any rate, the apparent anomaly has a foundation in real unity. [Capes’ Reasons, pp. 187-190] This is the fruit of Dr. Salmon’s rule of faith, in the words of his own chosen witness. Those who follow such spiritual guides do not show much private judgment or discretion.

Now, as Dr. Salmon’s rule enables him to put on the Bible any sense at all he pleases, it is only natural that he should make the following statement: —

There is no difficulty in an individual using Scripture as his rule of faith, for he can learn, without much difficulty, what the statements of the Bible on any subject are; and on most subjects these statements are easy to be understood. — (Pages 130, 131.)

But as this statement is made in the face of facts, and in direct contradiction to the testimony of St. Peter, Dr. Salmon elsewhere qualifies it thus:—

But we say that the revelation God has given us is, in essential matters, easy to be understood. Roman Catholics dwell much on the difficulty of understanding the Scriptures, and quote St. Peter’s saying that the Scriptures contain many things difficult and ‘hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction.’ But we say that the obscurities of Scripture do not hide those vital points, the knowledge of which is necessary to salvation. — (Page 90.)

It must be satisfactory to his students to see how easily Dr. Salmon disposes of St. Peter. The saint said Scripture is, in some parts, so difficult that ‘the unlearned and unstable wrest it to their own destruction.’ But whatever may be the conviction of St. Peter, Dr. Salmon says that ‘the obscurities of Scripture do not hide those vital points, the knowledge of which is necessary to salvation.’ Now it is only a mistake as to ‘those vital points’ that could lead to spiritual ruin; and since St. Peter says that some persons did interpret Scripture to their own ruin, these persons, then, must have mistaken those very ‘vital points’ which, according to Dr. Salmon, are so clear that no one can mistake them at all. ‘Vital points’ may be mistaken, for they have been mistaken, says St. Peter. No, replies Dr. Salmon, ‘vital points’ cannot be mistaken, so clearly are they contained in Scripture. Of course, the Trinity theologians accept the statement of Dr. Salmon. It would be against all the traditions of their Church and College to take the teaching of a Pope in preference to that of a Protestant professor.

Dr. Salmon frequently refers to those vital points, ‘the knowledge of which we count necessary to salvation’ (page 74). And with regard to them he says, again and again, that Scripture is sufficiently clear. This is the common Protestant theory of Fundamentals; and, like other Protestant teachers, Dr. Salmon is very careful not to tell us what these ‘vital points,’ these fundamental doctrines are. To bind himself down to any definite statement would be to surrender the liberty which his rule secures to him. But when he speaks of ‘essential matters,’ ‘vital points,’ he clearly must mean that there are some doctrines which must be believed, though he does not state their number or define them. And here again, his rule of faith comes to relieve him of any undue dogmatic burthens, and acts as a safeguard to his liberty. For, whatever the ‘vital points’ be, they must be contained in Scripture, and provable from it by the ‘individual Christian.’ Thus the ‘individual Christian’ is to judge for himself what the ‘vital points’ for himself are; and the inevitable result is, almost as many lists of ‘fundamental articles’ as there are individuals.

Now, Dr. Salmon professes, at least, to rest his faith on Scripture alone, and where can he find a trace of authority in Scripture for dividing revealed doctrines into articles which must be believed, and articles which may be disbelieved? When he speaks of ‘essential matters,’ ‘vital points,’ he distinctly implies that there are matters that are not essential, points that are not vital. And where is his Scripture authority for this distinction? He has none. The question here is not at all as to that minimum of explicit faith which, in all circumstances, and for all persons, is absolutely necessary as a means of salvation; that has already been discussed. Dr. Salmon is here discussing the rule of faith — the rule whereby men are to interpret God’s revelation, and to find out what they are, not in extraordinary and exceptional circumstances, but in general and
in ordinary circumstances, to believe. And Dr. Salmon, applying his rule, declares that amongst revealed doctrines, some are ‘vital,’ ‘essential,’ and must be believed; others are not vital, nor essential, and may, therefore, be disbelieved. This is Dr. Salmon’s theory.

But our Lord’s own theory, unmistakably laid down by Himself, is very different: ‘He that believeth, and is baptised, shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be condemned.’ [Mk 16:16] ‘Going therefore, teach all nations: . . to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.’ [Mt 28:19-20] Here our Lord distinctly, and without exception, states that he that believeth not shall be condemned, and that we are to believe all that He has commanded. He makes no distinction between truths of faith, as vital and non-vital; He gives no liberty to reject anything that He has revealed. And whoever rejects any each truth shall, He says, be condemned. This is our Lord’s teaching.

But the Regius Professor thinks this ‘a hard saying;’ and he tells his students that their obligation of belief is limited to ‘vital points,’ which, for their farther comfort, they are at liberty to determine for themselves. Our Lord’s words clearly leave no room for the distinction; but Dr. Salmon is a ‘prayerful man,’ and he knows that our Lord did not really mean what He so distinctly and emphatically said. Revelation is all God’s Word, and we believe it on His authority. That authority is just as good for believing any one revealed truth as any other. Everything that God has revealed is an object of faith, to be believed, at least, implicitly. All of it that is sufficiently proposed to us, we must believe explicitly. To reject any portion of it would be to refuse to believe Him, to make Him a liar, to make a shipwreck of the faith.

Thus Dr. Salmon’s theory of ‘vital’ and non-vital articles is an outrage on reason, as well as a palpable contradiction of our Lord’s own express declaration. If ‘the revelation which God has given us is, in essential matters, easy to be understood,’ how is it that for three hundred years Protestants have not been able even once to agree as to what these ‘essential matters’ are? The Trinity, the Incarnation, Baptismal Regeneration, the Sacramental System, the Inspiration of Scripture — these, surely, ought to be regarded as ‘vital points’ of Christian faith; and yet they are, one and all, held and denied by members of  Dr. Salmon’s Church, who, all alike, appeal, to the Bible as the rule of faith, and all justify their denials by appealing to Dr. Salmon’s distinction of essential and non-essential articles. Mr. Palmer, in his Treatise on the Church [vol. i, pp. 102-106], gives a number of theories of fundamentals held by Protestant theologians. He shows the state of hopeless confusion to which the discussion leads them, and he gives his own opinion in language that is very far from complimentary to those who hold the opinions expressed by Dr. Salmon. He says: —

Whatever foundation there may be for the notion that some doctrines are more important in themselves than others, it cannot be supposed that any doctrine certainly revealed by Christ is unimportant to us, or that it may be safely disbelieved, or that we may recognise as Christians those who obstinately disbelieve such a doctrine. [page 106]

St. Paul said to the Corinthians: ‘I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you, but that you be perfect in the same mind and in the same judgment.’ [1 Cor 1:10] The Apostle would have appealed in vain to men like Dr. Salmon. The result of the Doctor’s teaching, the fruit of the rule which be maintains, is that men do not and shall not speak the same thing; that there are schisms without number, and every day increasing in number; that scarcely any two persons give the same judgment, even on the most vital Christian dogmas; and that Dr. Salmon’s Church is (to use the very candid description of his friend Mr. Capes) ‘the very embodiment of the idea of Christian dissensions,’ and ‘that almost every existing school of Christian (?) theology can find a home within its boundaries.’ [Pages 185-7] The Gospel according to Dr. Salmon is not the Gospel according to Mr. Palmer, and the Gospel according to Dean Farrar has little affinity with either, though all spring from the same prolific source of error — the Bible, and the Bible only, as a rule of faith.

And in the Doctor’s theology the rule reaches the climax of impious absurdity. For in his system the ‘individual Christian is the supreme judge of “vital points,” ’ and, is, therefore, at liberty to say that any doctrine, no matter how clearly revealed, is still not ‘a vital point,’ — is not one of those ‘the knowledge of which we count necessary to salvation,’ (page 74), and may, therefore, be rejected as unnecessary. And thus the ‘individual Christian’ may, on Dr. Salmon’s theory, reject every single article of the Christian creed, and the Broad Church section has actually done so. The rule which begets such religious chaos, such soul-destroying error, stands condemned.

Dr. Salmon’s idea of the Catholic rule of faith reminds one forcibly of Mr. Pott’s work on Chinese metaphysics. A criticism of this profoundly learned work appeared in the Eatanswill Gazette, and strangely enough had escaped the notice of Mr. Bob Sawyer, and even of Mr. Pickwick himself. When the last-named gentleman was questioned by Mr. Pott as to his opinion of the criticism, he said in his embarrassment: ‘An abstruse subject, I should conceive.’ ‘Very, sir,’ responded Pott, looking intensely sage. ‘He crammed for it, to use a technical but expressive term; he read up for the subject at my desire in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.’ ‘Indeed!’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘I was not aware that that valuable work contained any information on Chinese Metaphysics.’ ‘He read, sir,’ rejoined Mr. Pott, laying his hand on Mr. Pickwick’s knee, and looking round, with a smile of intellectual superiority, ‘he read for metaphysics under the letter M, and for China under the letter C, and combined his information, sir!’ Dr. Salmon must have done something of the same sort. He must have studied for Faith under the letter F, and for Rule under the letter R, and combined his information. ‘And looking round with a smile of intellectual superiority,’ not even second to Mr. Pott, he imparted his combined information to his admiring students who must have been more than ever convinced of ‘the baselessness of the Roman claims.’

He informed them that no ‘other proof is necessary, of the modernness of the Roman role of faith than the very complicated form it assumes’ (page 129). Now Chinese metaphysics are older than the Catholic rule of faith, and certainly more complicated; and hence a thing may be complicated and old at the same time. The Doctor’s logic then is not good. But here is his ‘explanation,’ which is worthy of Mr. Pott when at the zenith of his fame: —

But the true explanation why Roman Catholic controversialists state their rule of faith in this complicated form is, that Christians began by taking Scripture as their guide, and then when practices were found current which could not be defended out of the Bible, tradition was invoked to supplement the deficiencies of Scripture. Last of all, when no proof could be made out either from Scripture or antiquity for Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, the authority of the Church was introduced to silence all opposition. — (Page 130).

This is combined information of the genuine Mr. Pott type. Now, Dr. Salmon was not an eye-witness of the interesting changes he has here recorded. Where, then, did he get his information? It must have come from some source as reliable as Taylor’s Dissuasive; unless, indeed, it be a private revelation to the Doctor himself. ‘Christians began,’ he says, ‘by taking Scripture as their guide.’ No; they had not the Scripture to take as a guide when they began. They began by taking the teaching of a divinely-commissioned body — the Ecclesia Docens — as their guide; they had no other. ‘And when practices were found current which could not be defended out of the Bible, tradition was invoked.’ No; tradition came before Scripture, not after it; and Dr. Salmon does not say what the indefensible practices were. ‘Last of all . . . the authority of the Church was introduced to silence all objections.’ No; first of all, the authority of the Church was introduced, when our Lord said to His Apostles, ‘going therefore teach all nations.’ Not a line of the New Testament was written for many years after the giving of this commission, which established Church authority, and is its charter. This, then, is not a ‘modern foundation,’ as the Doctor describes it; it is as old as Christianity. The version then of our rule of faith, supplied by Dr. Salmon, is a specimen of ‘combined information,’ quite on a par with the Chinese metaphysics of Mr. Pott’s critic, and the young men who took in his Pickwickian theology are likely to become enlightened guides of the rising generation of Protestants.

He informed them, furthermore, that the Catholic Church was so intolerant, so domineering, that she ‘expects to be believed on her bare word; she does not condescend to offer proofs’ (page 128). Now, it is an average specimen of the Doctor’s consistency, that just seven lines lower down than the above he admits, she does condescend to ‘offer proofs.’ ‘And if that Church condescends to offer proof of her doctrine [which is an admission that she does], she claims to be the sole judge whether what she offers are proofs or not.’ This is a serious, a grave charge against the Catholic Church. ‘She expects to be believed on her bare word.’ Yes, and the Doctor might have made his case stronger; for, she not only ‘expects,’ but she insists on ‘being believed on her bare word.’ She holds her commission from God Himself; she will not, therefore, allow Dr. Salmon, or his ‘individual Christian,’ to sit in judgment on her. Had she done so, she would be in the same position as the Doctor’s town-clock Church; — fake to her commission, unreliable as a guide, and unworthy of obedience. The Doctor’s damaging attack on the Church is, then, merely an argument of her divine origin. He is a profound logician, this Regius Professor; or, can it be, that he is a Jesuit in disguise, who is knowingly putting forward arguments against the Catholic Church, that can have but one result, to bring ridicule on the cause he professes to advocate[?] On such teaching his controversialists have a brilliant future before them.

The Doctor has another grave charge against us, to which we are prepared to plead guilty. ‘What I want to point out,’ he says, ‘is, that in the Roman Catholic controversy, this question about the rule of faith is altogether subordinate to the question as to the judge of controversies, or in other words, the question as to the infallibility of the Church’ (page 127). And he repeats this at page 129. Now, if he had read, with any care, any of our dogmatic theologians on the subject of his lectures, he would find them speaking of a remote and of a proximate rule of faith. The remote rule is the Word of God, contained in Scripture and tradition; it is thus a name for the source whence the Church takes her teaching. The proximate rule is the living voice of the teaching Church, which explains God’s Word to us. The Word of God is in the keeping of the Ecclesia Docens, and is therefore subordinate to it. God has made it so, for he has made the teaching Church its guardian and interpreter. Dr. Salmon could have easily learned this from our theologians, and he should have learned it somewhere, before he set about confusing his students as to our teaching. But he does not seem to have sufficiently considered even his own position; for he, too, holds that there is a judge of controversies to which his rule of faith (the Bible) is subordinate.

The ‘individual Christian’ is, according to the Doctor, to decide whether the Church’s teaching is in accordance with Scripture. The Doctor himself, therefore, is a judge of controversies, but only for himself; and so, in his system, is each individual Christian to the same extent. And, such being the case, what becomes of the Doctor’s position as Regius Professor? Why is he dictating to his controversialists if each is a divinely constituted judge of the contents of the Bible? The main difference between the Doctor and us, in this matter, is that he has a judge of controversy — himself, admittedly, notoriously fallible — a judge which cannot decide; and we have a judge of controversy — the teaching Church — to which God has expressly promised Infallibility, whose decrees, therefore, must be final, because they must be true. It is not at all, as Dr. Salmon told his theologians, a question of the Bible against the Church, for the Church adopts the Bible; it is her Bible; it is a question of the individual against the Church. The Catholic judge of controversies has a commission from God; the Protestant judge has no commission. It is a wearying task to follow Dr. Salmon through his illogical blunderings, and it is anything but a favourable index of the educational standard at Trinity, that its leading light should be so hopelessly bad a logician, that in his own special, chosen department, he should be unable to rise above the level of a street preacher, and that its most advanced students should take in their Professor’s crude lucubrations, with as much awe and reverence as Mr. Pickwick displayed when swallowing the Chinese metaphysics of Mr. Pott.

The Catholic rule of faith is not the caricature which Dr. Salmon sets before his students. It has God for its author. His wisdom designed it, and His power maintains it. It is, therefore, adapted to its purposes and adequate to the attainment of its end. In order to have divine faith we must have God’s Word, and we must know its meaning; that is, we must have a witness to the fact of revelation, and an interpreter of its true sense. And since faith is an absolutely necessary means for salvation, the witness and interpreter must be always present, living, testifying, teaching. For, if in any age since its institution, the witness or interpreter had been wanting, then, in that age faith would have been impossible, and salvation impossible also. And, moreover, this witness and interpreter must be infallible. If the witness were fallible, it might testify that God had spoken when He had not spoken; and if the interpreter were fallible, it might assign a meaning to God’s Word which is not His meaning. In either case we may be deceived, and may not be believing God’s words, but man’s speculations. And if we may be deceived, our assent would be, at best, doubtful, hesitating; and a doubtful, hesitating assent is not faith, it is only opinion. To have divine faith, therefore, we must have a witness and interpreter that will exclude doubt, that cannot err; that is, the witness and interpreter must be infallible; and that infallible witness and interpreter God has mercifully given us in the Ecclesia Docens — the teaching Church, whose living, never-failing, never-changing voice is the Catholic rule of faith. . . .

Dr. Salmon’s Church is not a witness to the fact of revelation; she came fifteen hundred years too late; and she is completely dis credited as an interpreter by the contradictory doctrines to which she stands pledged. And as for the Doctor himself, and his ‘individual Christian,’ they come later still; and even though the Doctor were a sort of Wandering Jew, who could trace back his career to the scene on Calvary, his reliability as a witness is completely shattered by his own lectures. Neither the Doctor, then, nor his Church can witness to the fact of revelation, nor tell its sense without grave risk of error, and therefore neither can be a guide in the important matter of faith. . . .

Now, Dr. Salmon’s rule is not competent to decide religions controversies. It has had a three-hundred years trial, and it has decided nothing except its own worthlessness. It has generated sects almost innumerable, professing most contradictory creeds, or rather not knowing what to profess. It set out by professing what it could not prove, that the Bible is God’s Word; and now, at the bidding of the ‘higher criticism,’ it has come to hold that God’s Word is somewhere in the Bible, but it cannot tell where. Such a rule cannot be from God. Dr. Salmon led his students to believe that he had disposed of the Catholic rule of faith, when he held up for their ridicule a caricature formed of some misquotations of Dr. Milner, supplemented by some not very ingenious inventions of his own. He told them that Dr. Milner ‘demanded that God should miraculously secure men from error of any kind ’ (page 97). And his version of the Catholic role is, ‘I know that I am right and you are wrong, because I have a divinely-inspired certainty that I am in the right in my opinion’ (page 82). It was no doubt very pleasant to them to be assured, on such high authority, that their task as controversialists was so easy, as Catholics were so very irrational and so absurd, but it would have been much better to have told them the truth.

And, having disposed of the Catholic rule, to his own satisfaction, the Doctor proceeds to lay the axe to the root of the whole Roman system, addressing his learned audience thus: ‘I propose to lay before you such evidence as will show you that, whether there be anywhere an infallible church or not the Church of Rome certainly is not’ (page 169) And the ‘evidence’ is supplied by the following facts (?): — (1.) ‘Romish advocates seldom offer any proof’ of the infallibility of the Church; (2.) ‘The Church of Rome has shrunk with the greatest timidity from exercising this gift of Infallibility on any question, which had not already settled itself without her help’ (page 172); (3.) ‘The Church of Rome herself does not believe in the Infallibility which she claims’ (page 173).

Now, the first of these statements is so notoriously, so manifestly opposed to fact, that it is amazing how even Dr. Salmon could have made it. There is not a dogmatic theologian, from Bellarmine to Dr. Murray, who has written on the Church, that has not proved this very doctrine which Dr. Salmon says they ‘seldom’ attempt to prove at all! And they prove it, not in the illogical manner suggested by Dr. Salmon. They prove, first, that the Church of Christ is infallible, and then, by the application of the notes of the true Church, they prove that the Church of Christ is that one which Dr. Salmon calls the Church of Rome. The Doctor can misrepresent these arguments, but he cannot refute them. His second statement is, ‘The Church of Rome has shrunk with the greatest timidity,’ etc., and hence he infers she is not infallible, and she knows it. Here, again, we have a specimen of the Doctor’s consistency. He has frequently stated that the Church’s definitions are always new doctrines, and here he tells us that she ‘shrinks’ from defining anything that had ‘not already settled itself without her help.’ If the matter be doctrine before the definition, then, the definition does not impose a new doctrine.

But his logic is even worse than his consistency. His conclusion does not at all follow from his premises. The Apostles were individually infallible, and yet, in order to decide whether circumcision was, or was not necessary, they assembled a council at Jerusalem, and it was only after ‘much discussion’ that St. Peter delivered the infallible decision of the Apostolic body. Now, as the Apostles were individually infallible, each of them could have at once decided this question as it came before him, and without any discussion; yet they waited and discussed the matter fully in council. Will Dr. Salmon make their hesitation an argument against their infallibility, individually or collectively? His argument is as good against the Apostles as against the Church, and as bad against the Church as against the Apostles. The Church hesitates, therefore, she is fallible; the Apostles hesitated, therefore, they were fallible. If Dr. Salmon insists on the first, he must hold the second, and if the Apostles were fallible, as the Doctor’s logic proves, what is the worth to him of his rule of faith — the Bible? Simply nothing. This is the outcome of the Doctor’s logic.

Now, it is proved that the Church is infallible in her teaching, and the hesitations alleged by Dr. Salmon (even if all were granted) are no disproof of that doctrine, however they are to be explained. And the explanation is very easy. For surely it is not a charge against the Church, that in the exercise of her high office she exhibits the prudence and caution which the supernatural character of her work demands. If she had rushed headlong to a decision, had shown the simplicity of the dove without the prudence of the serpent, the Doctor would, no doubt, quote Scripture to condemn her; but that she is prudent and cautious in her decisions ought to be regarded as a proof that she has a due appreciation of the sacredness of her office and of the eternal interests at stake. The obligation of using due caution and prudence is implied in her commission, and she is always sure to comply with the obligation; but it is not a necessary condition of the truth of her teaching.

Whenever the Church defines, her teaching is infallibly true, whether the preparation be long or short. Her Founder’s promise secures her in her teaching, and insures also the prudence and the wisdom of her decisions. But Dr. Salmon has, as usual, completely misrepresented the action of the Church. Whenever the truths of faith that are necessary to be explicitly believed have been assailed, the Church has made no undue delay in vindicating them and in condemning their assailants. Arians, Eutychians, Monophysites, Monothelites, Lutherans, Jansenists have been condemned with the promptitude and decisiveness which the interests of souls demanded. But there have been in the Church domestic controversies regarding matters, not dogmas of faith necessary to be explicitly believed, in which, therefore, the interests of souls were not concerned, and in such cases the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, has awaited the acceptable time. The controversies to which Dr. Salmon refers are of this latter class. And even in such cases, when the controversy reaches a stage, in which the interests of souls require that a definitive judgment should be given, the Church speaks, and with no uncertain sound. And this prudence ought to be regarded, rather as a proof of the Church’s fidelity to her commission than as an argument against her; for  ‘verily the finger of God is here.’

But Dr. Salmon ‘will argue still.’ He says: ‘Let us examine by the evidence of facts whether the Church of Rome believes her own claim to infallibility’ (page 172); and after his wonted manner of examining he concludes (page 173) that she ‘does not believe’ her claim. Now, if she claim it without believing it she is a hypocrite; and, as this is a very grave charge, it should not be made without conclusive evidence to sustain it. But, before convicting her, Dr. Salmon offers some very interesting evidence to show that she does not claim it at all. And his witnesses are quite worthy of him. There is, first, a Mr. Seymour, author of a precious production called Mornings with the Jesuits, in which he relates for the admiration of enlightened Protestants how he bearded the Jesuits in their own stronghold at Rome. ‘He asked them for proof that the Church of Rome ever claimed infallibility’ (page 173), and then this veritable Baron Munchausen ‘described the consternation and perplexity into which the Jesuits were thrown by his assertion that the Trent decrees contained no claim to infallibility.’

And of this wonderful story, which seems at first to have staggered Dr. Salmon, he got full confirmation from his friend, Mr. Capes, who subsequently met in England ‘one of Mr. Seymour’s two antagonists . . . an excellent specimen of a well instructed Jesuit. . . . And he told Mr. Capes that it was quite true,’ etc. (page 174). Very likely! A well instructed Jesuit ignorant of the decrees of the Council of Trent! A well instructed Jesuit, or any Jesuit, not aware that to claim under penalty of anathema, the internal assent of the faithful to truths of faith, does not presuppose the infallibility of the claimant! Of course Messrs. Seymour and Capes gave no names or dates of this extraordinary occurrence. Such minutiae would be altogether out of place, and would only tend to defeat the ends of Mr. Seymour & Co.

But let us hear another of Dr. Salmon’s witnesses: Mr. Ffoulkes, who, like Mr. Capes, ‘made the journey to Rome and back, states that he was never asked to accept this doctrine when he joined the Church of Rome’ (page 174). Now, almost in the same breath, we are told by Mr. Ffoulkes
that he made the following profession: ‘Sanctam Catholicam et Apostolicam Romanam Ecclesiam, omnium Ecclesiarum matrem et magistram agnosco.’ Now, magistram is not a mistress who owns, but a mistress who teaches, as his dictionary would have told Mr. Ffoulkes. He himself, therefore, said, ‘when he joined the Church of Rome’: ‘I acknowledge the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church to be the mother and teacher of all Churches,’ the clearest possible profession of Infallibility. Therefore, from his own lips, we have it that he actually professed and proclaimed that identical doctrine which he says was never proposed to him at all! If Mr. Ffoulkes had given such evidence in a court of justice, the presiding judge would quickly cut him short by saying: ‘You may go down, sir.’ So much for Dr. Salmon’s witnesses.

The Doctor’s own theory is that, though Rome claims Infallibility now, she did not claim it till recently. ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ There are many other ways besides a formal definition in which the Church speaks her mind. She has not formally defined her infallibility; but she has always acted as one who cannot err. She has never tolerated any denial of her teaching. Whenever false doctrines appeared she condemned them; when the dogmas of faith were assailed she vindicated them, and condemned their assailants. ‘Acting is the test of belief,’ according to Dr. Salmon himself. In the First General Council the Church anathematized the doctrine of Arius, and excommunicated those who held it. In the Second Council she anathematized the doctrines of Macedonius, and excommunicated those who maintained them. She acted in like manner towards Nestorius and his followers at Ephesus, and towards Eutyches and his followers at Chalcedon; and so on, down along the chain of ecclesiastical history, we find the Church anathematizing heretics and heresies as they arise.

Dr. Salmon, who knows so much about the Council of Trent, does not need to be reminded of the very emphatic condemnation of the errors of Luther and his associates at that council; and his own memory enables him to see how closely the example of the earlier councils was followed by that of the Vatican. And, as this action of the teaching Church has been accepted by the body of the faithful, then, judging by Dr. Salmon’s own test: ‘Acting is the test of belief,’ the Church has always claimed to be infallible, and the faithful have always admitted her claim. What, then, becomes of the Doctor’s assertion that she neither claimed it nor believed it? The test which he himself has supplied proves his statement to be false.

But the Doctor’s ingenuity is not yet exhausted. ‘I may, however, say a few words now . . . about the disputes which have raged within the Roman communion for centuries . . . as to the organ of the Church’s infallibility. Does the gift reside in the Church diffusive, or only in its Head?’ (page 175). To assert the existence of a controversy on this question is a demonstration of the want of knowledge or want of sincerity of him who makes the assertion. The statement implies that one of the parties to the controversy denied the infallibility of the ‘Church diffusive.’ There was never any such controversy in the Catholic Church. Catholics hold, and have always held, as an article of faith, unanimously, that the Universal Church, the ‘Church diffusive,’ can never believe or profess any false doctrine. Again, ‘does the gift reside in a General Council, or in Pope and Council together?’ (page 175). There can be no General Council without the Pope, and we hold, and always have held, that a General Council, confirmed by the Pope, is infallible in its teaching; and Catholics, furthermore, hold unanimously that the teaching Church (that is, the bishops in union and in communion with their head) is infallible in its teaching. On these questions there never was a controversy in the Catholic Church, though Dr. Salmon told his students that it had ‘raged for centuries.’

So far, then, ‘the organ of the Church’s infallibility’ was well known, was fixed and certain, available to all, and sufficient to decide all religions controversies. Whether, moreover, the Pope, in his official capacity, was infallible was a subject of controversy, though the controversy was more theoretical than practical; but it has been settled by the infallible voice of the Ecclesia Docens, and there is controversy on it no more. This practical efficacy of the Catholic rule of faith is unintelligible to men like Dr. Salmon, whose Church has never decided, and never can decide, a religious controversy, being, as Mr. Capes truly said, ‘the very embodiment of the idea of Christian dissensions.’ And no wonder, since, if men are to think and decide for themselves in matters of faith, they will think for themselves, and each individual Christian becomes a rule of faith, but to himself only. . . .

As already stated, the Church has always exercised this authority, and it is necessarily included in her commission. The exclusion of apocryphal books from the Canon of Scripture is a conspicuous instance of the exercise of this authority. At the Council of Nicaea the writings of Arius, his letters to Alexander of Alexandria, and his Thalia, written against St. Athanasius, were condemned as heretical, and anathema to Arius became a watch-word of orthodoxy. Five of the bishops present refused to subscribe to the condemnation of Arias, and were deposed. Two of them, Eusebius of Nicomedia, and Theognis of Nicaea, repented, and wrote a joint letter to the Fathers, in which they condemned the errors attributed to Arius, but declared that they believed him innocent. This looks somewhat akin to the Jansenist distinction of ‘right’ and ‘fact’ with, however, this very important difference, that they did not ground their favourable opinion of Arius on any quibble about his condemned writings, but on sermons delivered by him in their own presence and on private letters to themselves.  It is evident that the Church claimed, in this case, to decide infallibly the sense of the writings of Arius, for it would be intolerable tyranny to sentence bishops to deposition and exile for refusing to assent to a declaration that may be false.

The writings of Nestorius were condemned at Ephesus; those of Eutyches were condemned at Chalcedon. The books of the Manichees were condemned by Leo I., and the errors of Pelagius by Innocent I. The ‘Three Chapters ’ were condemned at the Fifth General Council; and later on we find the same discipline enforced whenever the occasion for it arose. The condemnations of Gotteschalc, Berengarius, Jerome of Prague, Hass, Wickliff, are some of the many instances of the exercise of this authority. And as ‘acting is the test of belief,’ the Church, therefore, must have believed that the right to condemn heretical and bad books was included in her commission. . . .

He says: ‘In several doctrinal questions which have come before the Privy Council [his Ecclesia Docens], it was found to be easier by far to ascertain what the doctrine of the Church of England was, than whether the impeached clergyman had contravened it’ (page 222).

Is the Doctor serious? No one has been ever able to ascertain what the ‘doctrine’ of his Church of England is, and she herself is unable to say what it is. And no wonder: for, as long as she has to bear the incubus of the ‘individual Christian’ sitting in judgment on her, the doctrine is his, not hers; and hence it is that in all doctrinal controversies she very properly observes the most profound and edifying ‘religious silence.’ Will the Doctor say when she has broken this ‘silence’ by a plain unequivocal statement of her doctrine?

There have been controversies about ‘lights,’ ‘incense,’ ‘vestments,’ position at the altar, etc., matters of rubric, regulated by what may be called the bye-laws of Dr. Salmon’s Church. On such matters decisions have been sometimes given, though they have generally given little satisfaction, and have never been obeyed. A board of guardians can make bye-laws and enforce them quite as effectually. But when has Dr. Salmon’s Church decided a question of doctrine? Does Baptism confer, or not confer, regenerating grace? Rev. Mr. Gorham held that it did not; his bishop, Dr. Philpotts, held that it did. The Court of Arches agreed with the bishop, and condemned Mr. Gorham; but the Privy Council reversed the condemnation on the ground that the Church of England did not say, and, no doubt, did not know, whether Baptism did, or did not, give the grace of regeneration. And her ‘Irish Sister’ in this matter exhibits the ‘ingenious Catholicity,’ already pointed out, by giving her children their choice of three doctrines, each of which is incompatible with the other two.

Is marriage indissoluble? The Rev. Mr. Black says it is; and he has a large following who say that such is the doctrine of the Church of England. But his archbishop, and most of the bishops of his Church, hold the contradictory view, and issue licenses for the re-marriage of divorced persons. And his Church looks on, while her spiritual rulers, according to Dr. Lee, say practically: ‘Believe nothing and preach anything.’ [Eccl. Situation, p. 45] Is our Lord really and truly present in the Blessed Eucharist? Mr. Carter, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Mackonochie say yes; Dean Farrar and Dr. Salmon say no. Each has a numerous following, and the Church looks on in helpless indifference. Are there real priests and a real sacrifice? The Ritualists, and some High Churchmen, like Dr. Gore and Dr. Moberly, say yes. Dr. Lightfoot said, however, that the Church ‘has no sacerdotal system;’ and Mr. Kensitt and his brother Protestants hold that every Christian is a priest, and Mr. Kensitt showed his sincerity by actually celebrating ‘the Lord’s Supper’ himself.

Again the Church looks on; she does not say, for she does not know, on which side is the true doctrine. And many other instances of this ‘religious silence’ could be here quoted. It is only necessary to mention the names of Bennett, Mackonochie, Purchas; to refer to the Essays and Reviews, the Athanasian Creed, or the controversy on Orders, to see how utterly powerless Dr. Salmon’s Church is to decide any dogmatic controversy, and how helpless is any attempt to find out her ‘doctrine.’ Let Dr. Salmon contrast the inaction of his Church regarding these controversies with the action of the Catholic Church in the Jansenist controversy alone, and if he is unable to see on which side ‘the finger of God’ is, he is past teaching. Whatever revealed doctrines Protestants hold they owe to the Catholic Church. Their own Church gives them nothing of her own but denials of Catholic doctrine, negations, that is, nothings. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has spoken through all the ages of her existence with the same power, the same truth, the same definiteness, as on the first Pentecost. Her voice has never wavered; it is the voice of God, the infallible rule of faith, the infallible guide of conduct for all men and for all time.



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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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