Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 7

Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 7 March 16, 2023
The book, The Infallibility of the Church (1888) by Anglican anti-Catholic polemicist George Salmon (1819-1904), may be one of the most extensive and detailed — as well as influential — critiques of the Catholic Church ever written. But, as usual with these sorts of works, it’s abominably argued and relentlessly ignorant and/or dishonest, as the critique below will amply demonstrate and document.
The most influential and effective anti-Catholic Protestant polemicist today, “Dr” [???] James White, cites Salmon several times in his written materials, and regards his magnum opus as an “excellent” work. In a letter dated 2 November 1959, C. S. Lewis recommended the book to an inquirer who was “vexed” about papal infallibility. Russell P. Spittler, professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote that “From an evangelical standpoint,” the book “has been standard since first published in 1888” (Cults and Isms, Baker Book House, 1973, 117). Well-known Baptist apologist Edward James Carnell called it the “best answer to Roman Catholicism” in a 1959 book. I think we can safely say that it is widely admired among theological (as well as “emotional”) opponents of the Catholic Church.
Prominent Protestant apologist Norman Geisler and his co-author Ralph MacKenzie triumphantly but falsely claim, in a major critique of Catholicism, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1995, 206-207, 459), that Salmon’s book has “never really been answered by the Catholic Church,” and call it the “classic refutation of papal infallibility,” which also offers “a penetrating critique of Newman’s theory.”
Salmon’s tome, however, has been roundly refuted at least twice: first, by Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Murphy in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record (March / May / July / September / November 1901 and January / March 1902): a response (see the original sources) — which I’ve now transcribed almost in its totality — which was more than 73,000 words, or approximately 257 pages; secondly, by Bishop Basil Christopher Butler (1902-1986) in his book, The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to the Abridged ‘Salmon’ (1954, 230 pages). See all of these replies — and further ones that I make — listed under “George Salmon” on my Anti-Catholicism web page. But no Protestant can say that no Catholic has adequately addressed (and refuted) the egregious and ubiquitous errors in this pathetic book. And we’ll once again see how few (if any) Protestants dare to counter-reply to all these critiques.
See other installments 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]
Irish Ecclesiastical Record vs. Anti-Catholic George Salmon, Pt. 6: The Innumerable Perils of Perspicuity of Scripture and Private Judgment [3-16-23]
Vol. XI: March 1902
Dr. Salmon’s ‘Infallibility’ (Part 7)
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. In this installment, I have omitted, for the sake of brevity and concision, some portions regarding religious tolerance and freedom that are extraneous to the main dispute at hand and would — I believe — would be tedious and boring to the average reader]

Dr. Salmon devotes three long lectures to a series of statements, the aim of which is to discredit the Church as a teacher. Under the headings of ‘Hesitations of the Infallible Guide,’ ‘Modern Revelations,’ and ‘Blunders of the Infallible Guide,’ he has brought together a mass of miscellaneous matter as a series of charges against the teaching authority of the Church. In the charges themselves, there is nothing new, and there is nothing new or striking in the Doctor’s manner of presenting them; and when he has said his last word the Church’s authority remains untouched. The lectures must have been amusing to his students, but as part of their training for controversy they were simply waste of time.
The Church did not decide the controversy De Auxiliis; she does not ‘publish an authorized commentary on Scripture’ (page 188); ‘she does not put the seal of her infallibility’ to any of ‘her catechisms or books of devotion’ (page 190); she does not tell us whether we are or are not bound to believe the extraordinary incidents recorded in the Glories of Mary and in the Roman Breviary; she does not tells us what we are to believe about Loretto, Lourdes, or La Salette. On all these she has carried her caution to an extraordinary degree, lest she may compromise her infallibility, but by a just judgment on her she has completely shattered the claim by her condemnation of the scientific teaching of Galileo.

This is the burden of Dr. Salmon’s three long lectures. Now in all these charges, except the last, he is condemning the Church for what she has not done; and in the last he is charging her with having done what she never did at all. He admits himself that he is judging her by what she has not done. ‘The complaint I made was,’ he says, ‘that the Church of Rome did not tell us whether we are to believe these things or not.’ And he wants to know ‘why she does not’ (page 215, note). The Doctor, in his capacity of Judex Controversiarum, is so much in the habit of sitting in judgment on his own — a Church made by men — that he fancies be can take the same liberty with the Catholic Church, founded by God. But she has her mission marked out for her, and she will not turn from her appointed course to accommodate even a Regius Professor. His duty is to hear her, not to judge her. He told his theologians that —

Romish teaching has constantly a double face. To those within the communion it is authoritive, positive, stamped with the seal of infallibility, which none may dispute without forfeiting his right to be counted a good Catholic. . . . She speaks differently to those who have the courage to impugn it, and bring it to the test. — (Page 187.)

Here is a grave charge, specific and direct; and as proof of it Dr. Salmon brings forward a number of subjects which, according to himself, the Church does not teach at all. There is a strange fatality about the Doctor’s logic. The Church, he says, abandons her teaching on a number of
subjects which, he says, she never taught at all. So the Doctor told his theologians who, no doubt, appreciated his logic. It shall be an evil day for the Catholic Church when Dr. Salmon’s patent controversialists take the field against her. Now, the Doctor has a wide field open to him. Let him search through the history of the Church from the first Pentecost to the present day, from St. Peter to Leo XIII., and let him find out, if he can, a solitary instance in which the Church permitted anyone, either in the Church or outside of it, to impugn a doctrine which she once taught. He can find no such instance. For those who impugn or deny her defined doctrine the Church has invariably one answer, and that is final — anathema sit.

Dr. Salmon founds one of his charges on the controversy De Auxiliis [a debate concerning predestination and how God can and does move the human will], on which he takes his information from Burnet’s Commentary on the Seventeenth Article. He has not studied the folios of Levinus Meyer or Serry, or the modern works of Schneeman, to say nothing of the voluminous writings of those who actually carried on the controversy; and the result is that he seems to know as much about the controversy De Auxiliis, as he does of the Beatific vision. It is amusing to hear one like Dr. Salmon giving his views so confidently on a controversy which for years engaged the talents of such men as Bannez and Alvarez and De Lemos on one side, and Molina and Lessius and Bellarmine and Gregory of Valentia on the other. A disputation on it by Dr. Salmon’s students, and under his own training, would be better than a pantomime.

It was essentially a scholastic controversy — confined to the schools, and the body of the faithful took no part in it; they did not and could not enter into its merits. No Catholic doctrine was affected by it; the necessity of grace was maintained by all the parties to the controversy; and so too was the existence of efficacious grace and its co-existence with free will. The point of the controversy was, what was the intrinsic nature of efficacious grace — what precisely it is that makes grace efficacious. This point was argued with a great deal of logical and theological subtilty on both sides, and, unfortunately, with a good deal of the odium theologicum also. To check, to repress this uncharitableness was the immediate, the pressing necessity, and that was done by Paul V. commanding each school to abstain from attaching theological censures to the opinions of the opposite school. But the interests of souls called for no decision on the question as to the intrinsic nature of efficacious grace, and no decision was given on it. It was allowed to remain, and it still is a matter for free discussion amongst theologians, due regard being had to the requirements of charity.

Again, Dr. Salmon says: ‘It might be expected that the infallible guide would publish an authoritative commentary on Scripture’ (page 188). If the ‘infallible guide’ agreed with Dr. Salmon that the Bible alone is the rule of faith, then his suggestion may be valuable, though to make it
really so the guide should first  teach all nations to read. But . . . Founder said to her: ‘Teach all nations.’ He did not say to her: ‘Write a book, and read it for all nations, or give it to them to read for themselves.’ . . .

Again, Dr. Salmon complains that though the Catholic Church ‘has catechisms and other books of instruction . . . she has not ventured to put her seal of Infallibility to any of them’ (page 190). And hence he says ‘if we detect a catechism in manifest error, if we find a preacher or a book
of devotion guilty of manifest extravagance, . . . the Church always leaves a loophole for disowning him.’ And he adds: ‘Does it not seem strange that a communion possessing the high attribute of Infallibility should make no use of it in the instruction of her people?’ (page 191). Yes, it would
‘seem strange’ if it were a fact; but it is one of Dr. Salmon’s fictions, and not a very clever or ingenious one. The Catholic Church is a teacher, and she is that precisely in virtue of her Infallibility. It is that which ensures that the ever-living voice shall always enunciate divine truth. Catechisms and books of devotion are permitted to circulate amongst Catholics, and are used by them, provided they have proper ecclesiastical approbation. That approbation ensures that the books contain nothing opposed to faith or morals — no doctrinal error, no unsound principle of morality.

Now this approbation presupposes an infallible standard of faith and morals, whereby the doctrine of such books is tested. And hence, if such books have this approbation, the faithful who use them have ample security as to the orthodoxy of the doctrine, as far as the approbation goes. And, therefore, ‘in the instruction of her people’ the Catholic Church always uses that very ‘attribute of Infallibility’ which, according to Dr. Salmon, she never uses at all. The Doctor was speaking to his students when he made this extraordinary statement, and clearly he thought his logic good enough for them. But all his rhetoric here is leading up to what he evidently regards as a crushing case against the Catholic Church. ‘I need take no other example,’ he says, ‘than the case I have already mentioned of Keenan’s Catechism’ (page 191). He had already quoted the Catechism at page 26 to convict the Catholic Church of a change of faith, and now he quotes it to show, moreover, ‘that we, heretics, knew better what were the doctrines of the Roman Church than did its own priests’ (page 192). Now, assuming (and it is scarcely a safe assumption) the correctness of Dr. Salmon’s extract from Keenan, what does it prove? According to the Doctor, Keenan said of Papal Infallibility, some fifty years ago: ‘It is no article of Catholic faith.’ This is, according to the Doctor and his friends, a false statement; they ‘knew better what were the doctrines of the Roman Church than did its own priests.’

Now, in order that a doctrine be an article of Catholic faith, it must be revealed, and it must be proposed by the Church to the faithful. The Infallibility of the Pope was revealed in Christ’s charge to St. Peter, and it has ever since been in the Church’s keeping as part of the deposit of faith. But it was not proposed by the Church to the faithful until the Vatican Council, and, therefore, up to that time it was ‘no article of Catholic faith.’ And, therefore, Keenan’s statement was true and the Doctor’s statement is not true. Up to the time of the definition it was an article of divine faith to such as had considered the evidence of its revelation and are satisfied of its sufficiency — and there were very many such; but it was not an article of Catholic faith for anyone until it was taught by the Church. But see what the Doctor’s logic comes to. At page 26 he introduced Keenan’s statement to convict the Church of a change in faith. If there be a change of faith made by the definition of Papal
Infallibility, then Keenan’s statement must have been true; it was not an article of faith when he wrote. But if Keenan’s statement be false (as Dr. Salmon says at page 192), then there was no change in doctrine caused by the definition.

But the Doctor’s memory is just as bad as his logic, for at page 26 he held Keenan’s statement to be true; at page 192 he holds it to be false, and again he holds it to be true at page 269, where, in reference to the evidence of some Irish bishops before a Royal Commission, he says, ‘they swore, as they then could with truth, that the doctrine of the Pope’s personal Infallibility ’ was not an article of Catholic faith. The students are fortunate in their teacher! Now all this is so elementary, so frequently and so clearly stated by Catholic theologians, that it is difficult to fancy a Regius Professor ignorant of it; and yet it is only the plea of ignorance that can shield him from the charge of bearing false witness against his neighbours.

A great rock of scandal to Dr. Salmon is the Roman Breviary, and also the process of canonisation of saints. This ardent lover of truth is shocked at ‘the number of lying legends . . . that are inserted in the Breviary by authority for the devotional reading of priests’ (page 196). But the Church, with her wonted versatility, is prepared to repudiate them when called to account by theologians of the Dr. Salmon type. He says: ‘If a Protestant hesitating to become a convert to Popery, should allege, as the ground of his hesitation, the number of lying legends proposed by the Church for his acceptance, he would be told that this is no obstacle at all, and that as a Roman Catholic he need not believe any of them’ (page 196). The Doctor is here referring to the brief histories of the saints that are generally given in the lessons of the Second Nocturn of the Breviary. And as he proclaims himself that Catholics are not bound to accept these histories as truths of faith, it is difficult to see what legitimate motive he can have in putting them forward as arguments against the Church’s Infallibility. As the Church orders the Breviary to be read by priests, it can contain nothing that is opposed to faith or morals; this is all the Church guarantees.

The intending ‘convert’ is asked to accept the Catholic profession of faith, which comprises a number of truths originally revealed by God, and proposed by the Church for the belief of the faithful. The histories of the saints, given in the Breviary, were not revealed, and are not put forward as such by the Church; and, therefore, the intending convert is truly told that he is not bound to accept them as truths of faith — for it is of such truths that Dr. Salmon is speaking. But according to the Doctor they are ‘lying legends proposed by the Church.’ Now, the Doctor’s word is not a substitute for proof, and he has not even attempted to prove that any of the statements referred to as ‘lying legends’ is really such. The Roman Breviary was frequently revised, and the last general revision of it was made under Urban VIII. by a congregation of cardinals, amongst whom were Bellarmine and Baronius, and they were assisted by a number of eminent scholars as consulting theologians, amongst whom were Gavantus, the great writer on Ritual, and our own countryman, Father Luke Wadding.

Now, it is not a conclusive proof of the Doctor’s modesty, or even of his prudence, to find him setting down as ‘lying legends’ statements which passed the criticism of such scholars. The Regius Professor would make a very sorry figure if he was for a while under examination in history and theology by Bellarmine and Baronius. But even on Dr. Salmon’s own admission there is much more to be said for the histories of the Breviary. He says that many of them, at least, are taken from Bulls of Canonisation, and if he would only read one process of canonisation he would be in a better position to judge of the character of the evidence he is discussing so glibly. Let him but read vol. v. of Moigno’s Splendours de la foi , let him study the  his assertion of ‘lying legends.’ The lying legends are those of Dr. Salmon, and of men like him, whose sole stock-in-trade they are. Such statements excite no surprise in Irish Church Mission teachers, but in a university professor they are lamentable.

In justification of his assertions Dr. Salmon quotes the case of the Holy House at Loretto, which he proves to be ‘fictitious’ on the high authority of his friend, Mr. Ffoulkes. Now, as Mr. Ffoulkes’ reasons are not given, we have only his assertion repeated by Dr. Salmon, which, as a proof, amounts to nothing. Another of his arguments is from the case of St. Philumena — but the Doctor doctors the history of the saint in his own peculiar fashion. He says: —

We learn from the authorized history of her life that a good Neapolitan priest had carried home some bones out of the Roman
catacombs, and was much distressed that his valuable relics should be anonymous. He was relieved from his embarrassment
by a pious nun in his congregation, who, in a dream, had revealed to her the name of the saint and her whole history, etc. — (Page 197).

This history must have been ‘authorised’ by the Doctor himself. The real history, which he could have found in the Breviary, tells us that the relics were not ‘anonymous’ at all. They were discovered in the catacomb of St. Priscilla, on the 2nd of May, 1802. They were contained in an urn,
and on a terra-cotta slab covering them was written: ‘Philumena. Peace with thee. — Amen.’ On the tomb also was found the lily, the symbol of virginity, also the palm, the blood-stained phial, the arrow, and other symbols of martyrdom. Dr. Salmon can see a facsimile of the slab in Northcote and Brownlow’s Epitaphs of the Catacombs (page 33). Now De Bossi, judging from the internal arrangement of this catacomb, and also from the inscriptions and symbolisms used, holds that it goes back to the second century of the Christian era. Here, then, we have a fact
as strictly historical as anything recorded of the catacombs, showing that the relics in question are those of Philumena, a virgin and a martyr, who must have suffered at a very early period of Christian history. Now, whether the ‘dream of the pious nun,’ alleged by Dr. Salmon, be real or unreal, the historical fact which be has conveniently suppressed reveals both the name and the character of the saint, and supplies also abundant foundation for the devotion to St. Philumena, which has so shocked the tender conscience of this truth-loving theologian.

This case of Philumena leads the Doctor on to ‘the subject of modern revelation as a foundation for new doctrines’ (page 199). He says: ‘But these alleged revelations are also the foundation of new doctrines, and the Pope’s silence concerning them affects the whole question of the rule of faith’ (page 200). And the new doctrines thus introduced are, according to Dr. Salmon, ‘Purgatory, Devotion to the Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Conception.’ These revelations are, according to Dr. Salmon, ‘in plain English, ghost stories,’ and on such stories ‘beliefs are being silently built up in the Church’ to such an extent that the Church really ‘is a vast manufactory of beliefs to which additions are being yearly made’ (page 213). The sum of his charge against the Church in this matter is that very many of her doctrines are founded on ghost stories, and that, as she will not tell us definitely what we are to think of these stories, she is, therefore, shown to be fallible.

Now, first, Infallibility can be tested only by what the Church does teach, not by what she does not teach; and, hence, the Doctor’s instances cannot be a test at all. And, secondly, no article of Catholic faith is founded, or can be founded, on any revelation not contained in the original deposit of faith. This is the Catholic theory, and Dr. Salmon is well aware of it. Whether there have been revelations made to individuals in later times is a matter to be determined by testimony, but such revelations cannot enter into the deposit of faith, and no article of Catholic faith can be grounded on them. And of this, too, the Doctor is well aware. If there be in reality any such modern revelations those to whom they were made are bound to believe them, not, however, as articles of Catholic faith (for such they cannot be), but as articles of divine faith, for, in the supposition, God has spoken to them and they must believe Him.

But others to whom the revelation was not made are not bound to believe it, for the simple reason that they have not sufficient evidence that God has spoken. Dr. Salmon says: ‘If there be any one in the latter Church to whom God has made real revelations we are bound to receive the truths so disclosed with the same reverence and assent which we give to what was taught by the Apostles’ (page 214). He is here giving testimony unconsciously against himself. Unfortunately for him in his own theory the statement is quite true. He has no better means of knowing what the Apostles taught than he has of knowing whether a revelation was made to this or that individual in recent times. But in the Catholic theory — the true theory — the Doctor’s statement is quite false; for the Catholic has the infallible authority of the Church to tell him what was taught by the Apostles, whilst in the case of modern revelation he has only the authority of the person to whom the revelation is alleged to have been made.

One of the doctrines alleged by Dr. Salmon to have been founded on modern revelation is that of the Immaculate Conception. Well, the doctrine was defined in 1854, and the alleged revelation, or rather apparition, took place in 1858. The doctrine thus came before the revelation, and consequently could not be founded on it. The Doctor first builds his house and then looks about for a foundation. This is genuine town-clock theology. Again, he regards the revelations made to Margaret Mary Alacoque as the foundation of devotion to the Sacred Heart, and he says: ‘My object is to show that every one of these alleged revelations has a distinct bearing on doctrine’ (page 224). He holds that they give rise to the doctrine.

Now, devotion to the Sacred Heart is founded on the Incarnation, on the Hypostatic Union, and Dr. Salmon cannot well maintain that the doctrine has been in any way affected by the revelation said to have been made to Blessed Margaret Mary. Out of this doctrine devotion to the Sacred Heart grew, and though it has become much more general since Margaret Mary’s time, it existed long before her time. There is an Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart given in the Divini Amoris Pharetra , written by Lauspergu?, and published a.d. 1572, fully a hundred years before Blessed Margaret Mary’s time. The devotion is distinctly referred to in the Vitis Mysbica , c. 3, n. 8, fully four hundred years before her time ; and it is not difficult to trace it much farther back into Christian antiquity. It is thus very much more ancient than Dr. Salmon fancies, and it could not, by any effort of imagination, be said with truth to have been founded on the revelations said to have been made to Blessed Margaret Mary.

But to the Doctor ‘it is downright Nestorianism;’ and he condemns it on the ground that in the Nestorian controversy ‘it was distinctly condemned to make a separation between our Lord’s Godhead and His Manhood’ (page 223). This precisely is what the devotion does not do. It rests on the impossibility of such separation; it presupposes the inseparable union of ‘our Lord’s Godhead and His Manhood,’ as the Doctor can see for himself, in any Catholic treatise on the subject, if he care to ascertain the truth. Of Blessed Margaret Mary herself he says: ‘This poor nun was subject to what we heretics would call hysteric delusions.’ This is his substitute for argument. He does not consider the evidence for the alleged revelations; that would be a tedious, a difficult process, and may perhaps lead him to an undeniable conclusions. Within his class-room he knew that his assertions would pass for argument, but for those outside, who may read his lectures, and calmly and patiently test his statements, to fancy that his mere assertion will carry much weight is one of the most supreme delusions of his life.

But, as might have been expected, the doctrine of Purgatory is Dr. Salmon’s most fruitful source of argument against the Catholic Church. All through his lectures, there is a tone of levity when speaking of Catholic doctrines that is open to grave suspicion, but this is most noticeable in his references to Purgatory. ‘The whole faith of the Church of Borne on this subject,’ he says, ‘has been built upon revelations, or, as we should call it in plain English, on ghost stories. For hundreds of years the Church seems to have known little or nothing on the subject’ (page 206). The Doctor himself seems certainly ‘to know little or nothing’ of it when he speaks thus. The Catholic Church teaches that ‘there is a Purgatory, and that souls detained there are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but most particularly by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.’ This is the defined doctrine on which theologians are allowed to reason and pious souls to meditate, so long only as their reasonings and inferences do not infringe on this fixed truth. Where this place or state of purgation is: what the precise nature of the sufferings there endured: how long they are to last for anyone, the Church does not say: though there is a strong tendency of Catholic teaching to lead one to believe that the pains are severe. And much unauthorised speculation on these questions in popular instructions is distinctly discouraged by the Council of Trent.

Now the supreme and sufficient argument for this or any other Catholic doctrine is the teaching of the infallible Church. The doctrine is necessarily involved in the doctrine and practice of prayer for the dead which the Church has always taught and maintained. If it be well to pray for the dead, if our prayers help them, then there must be some of them in such a state as to need our help. The saints in heaven do not need our prayers or help, and to the lost souls in hell our prayers can do no good. The souls, therefore, who can be served by our prayers must be in some intermediate state, in some state of purgation or expiation, where our prayers can procure for them the succour they need. This place or state Catholics call Purgatory. This is the substance of the doctrine on Purgatory which the Church has always taught, though Dr. Salmon told his theologians that for hundreds of years she seems to have known little or nothing of it.

Now, in the face of this confident assertion stands the indisputable fact that the doctrine was taught and believed by God’s chosen people long before the Catholic Church came into existence at all. Dr. Salmon is, of course, familiar with the well-known text, 2 Machabees xii. 43, 44, which records that Judas Machabeus made certain provision ‘for sacrifices to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection,’ etc. This clearly cannot be set down as the personal opinion of Judas. He is giving expression to the belief which must have been held by all those who co-operated with him in that act of mercy; by all who believed in the resurrection. They must have believed that it was not ‘superfluous and vain to pray for the dead.’ Now, if it was not ‘superfluous,’ then some of the dead must stand in need of prayers; and if it be not ‘vain,’ then the prayers must be useful to the departed souls. No wonder, then, holding this doctrine, that he should say, ‘It is, therefore, a holy and a salutary thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.’

It will avail the Doctor nothing to say that the book is not canonical; for (to say nothing of the conclusive evidence against this statement) the text supplies historical proof, that the Jews at that time prayed for the dead; and believed that departed souls were succoured by the prayers of the living. It is then absolutely certain that the doctrine was believed and acted on by the Jews in our Lord’s own time, and there is no trace of any protest from Him or from the Apostles against it. On the contrary, there are texts in the New Testament which seem to presuppose the doctrine, and the force of such texts becomes much stronger when taken in connexion with the comments and teaching of early fathers. Doellenger, whom Dr. Salmon frequently quotes as an authority, shows that several texts of the New Testament were understood in early times as referring to the state of the departed souls and to make special comment on 2 Tim. i. 16-18. [First Age of the Church, vol. ii, pp. 64-70] Tertullian [De Corona Mil., c. iii.,  No. 79] says ‘we make annual sacrifices for the dead,’ and in the opening sentence of the next chapter (iv.) he says: ‘Of this and other such customs if you ask the Scripture authority, you shall not find it. Tradition hands it down to you, custom confirms it, faith secures its observance.’ And in his book, De Exhortatione Castitatis, he argues against second marriages on the ground that the husband has still a religions affection for the deceased wife, ‘for whose soul,’ he says,’ you pray, for whom you offer up annual sacrifices.’ [Cap. xi]

St. Cyprian in his sixty-sixth letter Ad Clerum refers to a previous synod which forbade priests from becoming executors, and he now orders that anyone who violates that law shall not have the sacrifice offered for him when dead. St. Cyril of Jerusalem [Cat. v. Myst., No. 9] says that after ‘Commemorating patriarchs, and prophets, and apostles, and martyrs, that God may through their intercession receive our prayers, we then pray for . . . all those who have died amongst us believing that it shall be the greatest help to their souls for whom prayers are offered while the holy and august victim is present.’ It is quite unnecessary to multiply texts from the early fathers, this doctrine is the teaching of them all. Most readers will recollect the feeling language of the dying St. Monica to her son, St Augustine, asking to remember her at the altar. St. Ambrose, St. Chrysostom Epiphanius, St. Gregory the Great, all teach this doctrine in the most unmistakable language. Again in all the ancient liturgies there are prayers for the dead, and the same cry for mercy goes up from the tombs of the catacombs. Moreover, in several early councils we find canons regulating oblations for the dead. Against all this teaching it is alleged that the prayers referred to are only commemorations such as we find made of persons departed who certainly do not need our prayers, We often find the Blessed Virgin and the Apostles so commemorated.

A glance at the texts and prayers will however dissipate this delusion. In the text given from St. Cyril a clear distinction is made between those whom we commemorate to honour, to gain their intercession, and those whom we commemorate as an act of charity to obtain mercy for them. And this distinction is clearly laid down in the writings of other fathers, and is as clearly embodied in the ancient liturgies, as it is in the Roman Missal of this day. Honourable mention, such as distinguished soldiers get in military despatches, will not satisfy this. And from these original fountains of Apostolic teaching, the doctrine has come down through fathers and councils to our own time. Now, are all these testimonies ghost stories? In the face of this chain of evidence the Doctor told his theologians that for many hundreds of years the Church seemed to have known little or nothing of the doctrine!

And in this, as in other matters, Dr. Salmon seems to know as little of the teaching of his own theologians, as of that of ours. The very latest commentator on the Articles, the Rev. E. Tyrrell Greene, M.A., says, while explaining Article 21: — ‘There is abundant evidence which goes to prove that the practice of prayer for the dead prevailed in the Primitive Church’ (page 148); and he proves his assertion from the ancient liturgies and from inscriptions in the catacombs. Dr. Luckock, Dean of Lichfield, says: — ‘It seems almost impossible to form any other conclusion than that the souls of the departed pass through some purifying process, between death and judgment. [Intermediate State, c. vii. 62] And Dr. M. MacColl, Canon of Ripon, in his Reformation Settlement, after a long and appropriate quotation from Jeremy Taylor, says: —

I will now assume that I have established these three statements: — (1) that the Church of England had nowhere refused her sanction to prayers for the dead; (2) that such prayers have been sanctioned by the Christian Church from the beginning; (3) that the Christian Church inherited them with our Lord’s tacit sanction from the Jewish Church. — (Page 318.)

And that Dr. MacColl is correct in his reference to the Church of England, was clearly proved by the decision of the Court of Arches in the case of Breeks v. Woolfrey, Nov. 19th, 1838. In that year a Catholic, John Woolfrey, died at Carisbrooke, in the Isle of Wight. He was buried in the local cemetery, and his wife erected a tombstone to his remains with the following inscription: —

Pray for the soul of J. Woolfrey.

It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead. — 2 Ma. xii. 46.

This prayer was too distasteful to the orthodoxy of the local parson, Rev. J. Breeks, who cited Mrs. Woolfrey before the court of the Bishop Winchester, in order to have the tombstone and inscription removed. From this court it was sent to the Court of Arches, of Canterbury, where a decision was given on the day above-named by Sir Herbert Jenner Fust. The charge is a most elaborate survey of the ecclesiastical law bearing on this question; but the outcome brought very little consolation to the wounded feelings of the Rev. John Breeks. The tombstone, with its prayer, was to remain. The rev. gentleman was much more orthodox than his Church. He may inhibit prayers for the dead, but there is no evidence that the Church of England ever did so. And, as if to make matters worse for Mr. Breeks, the judge had the cruel taste of quoting the epitaph, composed by Bishop Barrow, for his own tomb; which can still be read in the Cathedral of St. Asaph, and which is quite as Roman as the prayer for poor J. Woolfrey. All these men too, of course, based their opinions on ‘ghost stories.’ Surely if Dr. Salmon had been aware that divines of high standing, scholars of high reputation, had made, after mature examination, the statements given above, he would have been less reckless in addressing an audience even such as his was.

Instead of setting before his students the real foundation of our doctrine, he entertained them with the recital of a number of stories well calculated to bring ridicule on it. He took from Father Faber, and from the Abbe Louvet, a number of alleged revelations as to the general character of Purgatory, and the state of the souls therein, and on these ‘ghost stories’ he told them ‘the whole faith of the Church of Rome’ on this matter rests. He has not even attempted to disprove any one of the ‘stories.’ And even though he had disproved them all, the Catholic doctrines on Purgatory and on Prayers for the Dead would remain just what they are. From Father Faber’s All for Jesus he quotes a number of such expressions as ‘Our Lord said to St. Gertrude,’ or ‘to St Teresa,’ which he clearly regards as too silly to need refutation. Now, Father Faber must have believed that there was evidence for these statements, and must have believed them. He does not give them as arguments for doctrine.

In fact, only one of the passages quoted by Dr. Salmon refers to Purgatory; and Dr. Salmon draws from them the following conclusion; — ‘A number of new things about Purgatory are stated on this authority . . . for instance, that the Blessed Virgin is Queen of Purgatory, that St. Michael is her Prime Minister,’ etc. (page 205). This is very witty, and must have been amusing to Dr. Salmon’s theologians, but Father Faber is not to blame for the Doctor’s profane levity. He believed the revelations quoted by him, just as he was free to disbelieve them if he thought the evidence unsatisfactory. And anyone who reads his work, and knows his history, must feel that he possesses the critical faculty quite as much as Dr. Salmon, though he has used it in a different way, and with far different results. And certainly Dr. Salmon, as revealed in those lectures, is not the man to give a decisive opinion on the dealings of God with favoured souls as St. Gertrude or St. Teresa.

But Dr. Salmon’s favourite author on this subject is the French Abbe Louvet. This priest seems, from his book, to be a pious man, not overburthened with judgment, and he wrote in circumstances of special difficulty. ‘I have formed a very high opinion both of the piety of the Abbe and of his literary honesty,’ says Dr. Salmon (page 205). And no wonder, for he supplies the Doctor with some valuable material for his lecture. He gives, for instance, and fully believes the history of St. Patrick’s Purgatory as told by Count Ramon, and, furthermore, he actually regards it as in some way connected with the real Purgatory of the departed souls. No wonder that Dr. Salmon should admire so learned, so reliable an authority. But, to do the good Abbe justice, he does not claim such high authority himself. In his Preface he apologises for the many imperfections of his book. He is a hard-working missionary in China, and he says that the book was written during a period of illness, away in his distant mission many thousand leagues from any library, from notes taken long before, and from memory. To expect a reliable or valuable work on a difficult subject from one so circumstanced is out of the question.

And the Abbe’s memory failed him on one very vital matter. According to the law of the Catholic Church such a book should not be issued without proper ecclesiastical approbation, and the Abbe’s book has none; and it is certainly quite characteristic of Dr. Salmon, as a controversialist, that he should quote as a high authority on Catholic doctrine a book written in violation of the law of the Catholic Church. There are recorded in Scripture visions and revelations quite as wonderful as any recorded by the Abbe Louvet. Those recorded by him then are possible, and for all that Dr. Salmon has said they may be true. They are not to be disposed of by notes of exclamation. As long as statements like those of Abbe Louvet do not infringe on faith or morals, the Catholic Church is just as much, and just as little, concerned with them as Dr. Salmon himself, and he is quite aware that this is so. And yet he makes on it the following characteristic comment: —

To people of their own community they assert things as positive facts, which they run away from defending the moment an opponent grapples with them. It would seem as if their maxim was, ‘We need not be particular about the truth of what we say if no one is present who can contradict us.’ — (Page 216, note.)

Et tu Brute! Such a statement implies an unusual amount of hardihood, considering the character of his own lectures!

The ‘Gallican theory’ is, according to Dr. Salmon, fatal to the Infallibility of the Church. ‘That theory,’ he says, ‘places the Infallibility in the Church diffusive’ (page 262). The Doctor’s language here is equivocal. It would apply either to passive infallibility of the body of believers, or to the active infallibility of the teaching Church. And as his aim here is to assail ‘infallibility in teaching,’ let it be supposed that he is more logical than his language indicates, and that by ‘the Church diffusive’ he means the body of bishops diffused throughout the Church, and including, of course, the Pope. The Gallicans held that this body was infallible in its teaching, and this doctrine has been already proved. They disbelieved in the Infallibility of the Pope; and it is a curious thing about Dr. Salmon’s logic that his arguments against the doctrine which the Gallicans held are arguments in favour of the doctrine which they denied, and which he himself denies and denounces most vehemently.

‘One thing is plain,’ he says, ‘namely, that if this is the nature of the gift of infallibility Christ has bestowed on His Church, the gift is absolutely useless for the determination of controversies’ (page 269). ‘We can see thus that the Gallican method of ascribing Infallibility to the Church diffusive does not satisfy any of the a priori supposed proofs for the necessity of a judge of controversies’ (page 271). Thus, whilst arguing against one Catholic doctrine he is, no doubt, unconsciously proving another; his argument against the infallibility of the Church tends very strongly to prove the Infallibility of the Pope. The General Synod should look to the Doctor’s logic. As Dr. O’Hanlon used to say, ‘such teaching deserves a note.’

Now, the Gallicans held the Infallibility of the Church, how then can they be quoted as witnessing against that doctrine? The Doctor has not explained the intricate process which led him to this discovery. How far Gallicanism can be regarded as an argument against Papal Infallibility will be considered when that doctrine comes on for discussion. Dr. Salmon is well aware, for he says so, that the Declaration of 1682 was forced on the French Church by the tyranny of Louis XIV.

I believe [he says] that, but for court pressure, Bossuet and his colleagues would not have engaged in the controversy with Rome, which the act of formulating these propositions involved. . . . I have my doubts whether these hangers-on of the court of Louis XIV. really carried the religious mind of the nation with him. — (Page 266.)

And yet, strange to say, in the very same page he says: ‘The four Gallican propositions expressed, as I believe, the real opinion of the French Church!’ They did not express the real opinion of the venerable French Church, and of this there is now conclusive evidence. They were forced on by the unscrupulous tyranny of the king and his ministers; and were accepted only by time-serving prelates who were ready to give to Caesar what belonged to God. M. Charles Gerin, in his History of the Assembly of 1682, has accumulated from sources hitherto unpublished, a mass of information on the proceedings of the assembly; and has put in its true light the conduct of its leading spirits. It was a packed assembly. Its members were really chosen by the king’s agents. Only thirty-four out of one hundred and thirty bishops were present, and these were selected, not for their learning or their piety, but for their well-known servility; and M. Gerin has produced letters of very many of them which show how fully they expected to be rewarded for their services. Such an assembly could have no moral weight, and its decision was forced on the French Church by the most absolute tyranny.

In his fifteenth chapter M. Gerin shows what were the feelings of the French Church at the time, and the means adopted to crush those feelings. Colbert, the king’s unscrupulous minister, had his spies in the University to note how the articles were likely to be received, and the secret reports supplied to him are brought to light by M. Gerin. Of one hundred and sixty doctors of the Sorbonne ‘all, but six or seven,’ are reputed as opposed to the articles; in the College of Navarre ‘all, but one,’ opposed; at St. Sulpice and the Foreign Missions Colleges ‘all, but four or five’; and among the orders ‘all.’ And a month after the assembly Colbert, himself, writes that nearly all the bishops who signed the declaration would willingly retract the next day if they could. This is the evidence of facts, as adduced by M. Gerin, and it completely disproves Dr. Salmon’s statement that the ‘four articles expressed the real opinion of the French Church.’ And it is clear, therefore, that even as a difficulty against Papal Infallibility, Gallicanism breaks down hopelessly.
In speaking of General Councils Dr. Salmon has surpassed himself. Here his real controversial tact is conspicuous; and if his students carry away from his lectures any respect for early General Councils, the fault is not attributable to their Professor. He told them that the authority of General Councils had now practically ceased to be matter of controversy, because that Catholics ‘who claim that prerogative for the Pope, and whose ascendancy was completely established at the Vatican Council of 1870, have been quite as anxious, as we can be, that no rival claim for councils should be allowed to establish itself’ (page 281). The Doctor is here drawing on his imagination. Catholics can never give up any doctrine once taught by the Church. There have been several dogmatic treatises written on the Church since the Vatican Council; and he will find in each one of them this doctrine stated and vindicated, though he told his students it was practically set aside.

This doctrine is included in the ordinary proof of the Infallibility of the Ecclesia Docens which Dr. Salmon has not considered. But having laid down the above extraordinary premises, be proceeds to discredit General Councils on Catholic authority. ‘I am trying to prove no more,’ he says, ‘than has been asserted by eminent Roman Catholic divines as, for example, by Cardinal Newman’ (page 282). Now it must be borne in mind that there is question only of General Councils, for to such only do Catholics attribute Infallibility. And Newman’s testimony against them, he says, is that ‘Cardinal Newman describes the fourth century Councils’ (Nicaea and first of Constantinople being of the number), ‘as a scandal to the Christian name.’

It appears absolutely useless to look for a fair quotation in Dr. Salmon’s book. This quotation is from Newman’s Historical Sketches, vol. iii. p. 335, and is as follows: — ‘Arianism came into the Church with Constantine, and the Councils which it convoked and made its tools were a scandal to the Christian name.’ Dr. Salmon omitted all except the concluding words of the sentence, and applied these words in a sense openly and expressly excluded by the text. According to Newman, certain Arian Councils were ‘a scandal to the Christian name,’ and, therefore, says Dr. Salmon to his students, we have Newman teaching that all the fourth century Councils, Nicaea, and the first of Constantinople amongst the number, were ‘a scandal to the Christian name.’ Now, Dr. Salmon could not have mistaken Newman’s meaning in the passage, for besides his specially naming the Arian Councils, he added, in the very next sentence, ‘the Council of Nicaea, which preceded them, was by right final on the controversy, but this Constantine’s successor, Constantius, and his court bishops would not allow.’ And yet Dr. Salmon quotes Cardinal Newman as teaching that even this Council of Nicaea was ‘a scandal to the Christian name’!

On the strength of his misquotation of Newman, Dr. Salmon proceeds to show that the Ecumenical Councils of the fifth century were quite as much discredited as those which preceded them, and selects specially the Council of Ephesus. His argument against this Council is founded altogether on the personal character of St. Cyril of Alexandria, whom he paints in the very blackest of colours indeed. After referring to a number of Cyril’s alleged misdeeds, he again quotes Cardinal Newman: — ‘Cardinal Newman here gives up Cyril, “Cyril, I know, is a saint, but it does not follow that he was a saint in the year 412” ‘ (page 307). Now, to say that a man is a saint does not look like giving him up; and Newman, moreover, says of him, after referring to the charges made against him: —

Thoughts such as these . . . were a great injustice to Cyril. Cyril was a clear-headed constructive theologian. He saw what Theodoret did not see. He was not content with anathematising Nestorius; he laid down a positive view of the Incarnation which the Universal Church accepted, and holds to this day, as the very truth of Revelation. It is this insight into and grasp of the Adorable mystery which constitutes his claim to take his seat among the Doctors of Holy Church. [Hist. Sketches, vol. iii, p. 345]

But the question is not at all what was the personal character of Cyril, but was the Council infallible: and Cardinal Newman, in the very page quoted by Dr. Salmon, has given his answer which is the answer of all Catholic antiquity: ‘There was a greater Presence in the midst of them than John, Theodoret, or Cyril, and He carried out His truth and His will in spite of the rebellious natures of His chosen ones.’ [Ibid., vol. iii, 353] Cardinal Newman here asserts, what no Catholic ever thought of questioning, that the authority of General Councils is due to the over-ruling guidance of the Holy Ghost, and not to the personal character of those who compose them. And at a time when heretical bishops were intruded in several sees by the civil power, and laboured by the most violent means to diffuse the poison of their heresy, it is not much matter for surprise that one like St. Cyril, of strong temper, and of stern, unbending orthodoxy, should, in dealing with them, have sometimes forgotten the principles of politeness. But, in the eyes of Dr. Salmon, St. Cyril’s unpardonable sin is that he was the Pope’s Legate at the Council.

Dr. Salmon quotes a well-known text of St. Gregory Nazianzen against the authority of General Councils. It is from the opening of letter forty-two to Procopius: ‘If I must write the truth, I am disposed to avoid any assembly of bishops, for of no synod have I seen a profitable end, but rather an addition to, than a diminution, of evils’ (page 297). Now, there is nothing more notorious about the text than that it does not refer to General Councils at all. The only General Council held before this letter was written was that of Nicaea; and in his twenty-first oration on St. Athanasius he speaks in most enthusiastic terms of that ‘Holy Council held at Nicaea, and of the three hundred and eighteen most select men whom the Holy Spirit brought together there.’ Surely, then, it is trifling, even with his students, to quote St. Gregory against that Council. Now, the letter was written before the second General Council, the first of Constantinople, and consequently could not refer to that Council either.

There are some Protestant writers who say that Gregory’s letter was in reply to an intimation to attend the second General Council, and they continue with a strange perversity to quote his letter against it. But, even though this were granted (and it is not granted, for it is not true), the letter could have no reference to General Councils, for the second General Council became general only in exitu. No one regarded it as a General Council at its opening. And, there fore, even though Gregory’s letter actually referred to it, it would be no evidence against the authority of General Councils. St. Gregory was speaking of a number of synods held in his time, in which the violence of heretical bishops rendered calm discussion impossible, and from which, therefore, no good result could be anticipated. And Dr. Salmon himself supplies abundant proof that St. Gregory was complaining of such synods, and that he had ample cause.

At page 295, he quotes even St. Augustine against the infallible authority of councils. But it is perfectly clear, even from the extract given by Dr. Salmon, that the saint is only anxious to bring his Arian opponent to argue on the common ground of Holy Scriptures; and hence he says, ‘I shall not quote Nicaea against you, for you reject it; nor you quote Rimini against me, for I reject it; let us argue on the Scriptures which we both accept.’ The extract is from Liber Contra Man. Ar., Lib. 2, c. 14, n. 3, and the opening sentence of the section shows how fully St. Augustine maintained the doctrine which Dr. Salmon told his students he denied!

But Dr. Salmon puts the climax to his arguments against the Infallibility of General Councils, when he compares them to meetings of the Protestant Synod! ‘When an assembly of ourselves meet,’ he says, ‘together to consult on questions affecting the interests of the Church . . . we do not expect any such assembly to be free from error’ (page 285). After this very modest disclaimer on the part of the Doctor, it is difficult to see how General Councils can survive the blow. It is ‘the most unkindest cut of all.’ As already stated the Infallibility of General Councils rests not on the personal character and merits of those who compose them, though very many learned and holy men are always among them, it rests on God’s promise to be with His Church in her teaching. Dr. Salmon accepts the doctrine of the early General Councils, not, however, because the Councils were infallible, but because he knows that the doctrine is true. But how does he know this? The answer is not far to seek, it is the old story, General Councils are not infallible but the Doctor is.


Practical Matters: Perhaps some of my 4,200+ free online articles (the most comprehensive “one-stop” Catholic apologetics site) or fifty-one books have helped you (by God’s grace) to decide to become Catholic or to return to the Church, or better understand some doctrines and why we believe them.

Or you may believe my work is worthy to support for the purpose of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much-needed financial contribution. I’m always in need of more funds: especially monthly support. “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, NKJV). 1 December 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked the 25th anniversary of my blog.

PayPal donations are the easiest: just send to my email address: You’ll see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side-business. To learn about the different methods of contributing, including 100% tax deduction, etc., see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation InformationThanks a million from the bottom of my heart!


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.
"How timely as I recently read a comment from a non-Catholic asserting that belief in ..."

Sola Scriptura: Reply to James White ..."
""...studied Bible and theology at WalkRight Baptist Bible Institute from 2011 to 2103"You sure you ..."

Lazarus & the Rich Man: Jesus ..."

Browse Our Archives