« PreviousContinue »
How far the Religion of the Church of Rome is tolerable. 1. But now concerning the religion of the church of Rome (which was the other instance I promised to consider) we will proceed another way, and not consider the truth or falsity of the doctrines; for that is not the best way to determine this question concerning permitting their religion or assemblies. Because that a thing is not true, is not argument sufficient to conclude, that he that believes it true, is not to be endured: but we are to consider, what inducements they are that possess the understanding of those men, whether they be reasonable and innocent, sufficient to abuse or persuade wise and good men; or whether the doctrines be commenced upon design, and managed with impiety, and then have effects not to be endured.
2. And here, first, I consider, that those doctrines that have had long continuance and possession in the church, cannot easily be supposed in the present professors to be a design, since they have received it from so many ages; and it is not likely that all ages should have the same purposes, or that the same doctrine should serve the several ends of divers ages. But however, long prescription is a prejudice oftentimes so insupportable, that it cannot with many arguments be retrenched, as relying upon these grounds, that truth is more ancient than falsehood; that God would not for so many ages forsake his church, and leave her in an error; that whatsoever is new, is not only suspicious, but false : which are suppositions pious and plausible enough. And if the church of Rome had communicated infants so long as she hath prayed to saints or baptized infants, the communicating would have been believed with as much confidence as the other articles are, and the dissentients with as much impatience rejected. But this consideration is to be enlarged upon all those particulars, which, as they are apt to abuse the persons of the men and amuse their understandings, so they are instruments of their excuse, and by making their errors to be invincible, and their opinions, though false, yet not criminal, make it also to be an effect of
reason and charity to permit the men a liberty of their conscience, and let them answer to God for themselves and their own opinions. Such as are the beauty and splendour of their church; their pompous service; the stateliness and solemnity of the hierarchy; their name of catholic, which they suppose their own due, and to concern no other sect of Christians; the antiquity of many of their doctrines; the continual succession of their bishops ; their immediate derivation from the apostles; their title to succeed St. Peter; the supposal and pretence of his personal prerogatives; the advantages which the conjunction of the imperial seat with their episcopal hath brought to that see; the flattering expressions of minor bishops, which, by being old records, have obtained credibility; the multitude and variety of people which are of their persuasion; apparent consent with antiquity in many ceremonials, which other churches have rejected; and a pretended, and sometimes an apparent, consent with some elder ages in many matters doctrinal; the advantage which is derived to them by entertaining some personal opinions of the fathers, which they, with infinite clamours, see to be cried up to be a doctrine of the church of that time; the great consent of one part with another, in that which most of them affirm to be 'de fide;' the great differences which are commenced amongst their adversaries, abusing the liberty of prophesying unto a very great licentiousness; their happiness of being instruments in converting divers nations; the advantages of monarchical government, the benefit of which, as well as the inconveniences (which, though they feel, they consider not), they daily do enjoy; the piety and the austerity of their religious orders of men and women; the single life of their priests and bishops ; the riches of their church; the severity of their fasts, and their exterior observances; the great reputation of their first bishops for faith and sanctity; the known holiness of some of those persons, whose institutes the religious persons pretend to imitate; their miracles, false or true, substantial or imaginary; the casualties and accidents that have happened to their adversaries, which being chances of humanity, are attributed to several causes, according as the fancies of men and their interests are pleased or satisfied; the temporal felicity of their professors; the oblique arts
and indirect proceedings of some of those who departed from them; and, amongst many other things, the names of heretic and schismatic, which they, with infinite pertinacy, fasten upon all that disagree from them. These things, and divers others, may very easily persuade persons of much reason, and more piety, to retain that which they know to have been the religion of their forefathers, which had actual possession and seizure of men's understandings before the opposite professions had a name : and so much the rather, because religion hath more advantages upon the fancy and affections, than it hath upon philosophy and severe discourses, and therefore is the more easily persuaded upon such grounds as these, which are more apt to amuse
an to satisfy the understanding.
3. Secondly : If we consider the doctrines themselves, we shall find them to be superstructures ill built, and worse managed; but yet they keep the foundation ; they build upon God in Jesus Christ, they profess the Apostles' Creed, they retain faith and repentance as the supporters of all our hopes of heaven, and believe many more truths than can be proved to be of simple and original necessity to salvation. And therefore all the wisest personages of the adverse party allowed to them possibility of salvation, whilst their errors are not faults of their will, but weaknesses and deceptions of the understanding. So that there is nothing in the foundation of faith that can reasonably hinder them to be permitted: the foundation of faith stands secure enough for all their vain and unhandsome superstructures.
But then on the other side, if we take account of their doctrines as they relate to good life, or are consistent or inconsistent with civil government, we shall have other considerations.
4. Thirdly: For I consider that many of their doctrines do accidentally teach, or lead to ill life: and it will appear to any man that considers the result of these propositions. Attrition (which is a low and imperfect degree of sorrow for sin; or, as others say, a sorrow for sin commenced upon any reason of a religious hope, or fear, or desire, or any thing else) is a sufficient disposition for a man in the sacrament of penance to receive absolution, and be justified before God,
by taking away the gift of all his sins, and the obligation to eternal pains. So that already the fear of hell is quite removed upon conditions so easy, that many men take more pains to get a groat, than by this doctrine we are obliged to for the curing and acquitting all the greatest sins of a whole life of the most vicious person in the world. And, but that they affright their people with a fear of purgatory, or with the severity of penances in case they will not venture for purgatory (for by their doctrine they may choose or refuse either), there would be nothing in their doctrine or discipline to impede and slacken their proclivity to sin. But then they have as easy a cure for that too, with a little more charge sometimes, but most commonly with less trouble: for there are so many confraternities, so many privileged churches, altars, monasteries, cemeteries, offices, festivals, and so free a concession of indulgences appendant to all these, and a thousand fine devices to take away the fear of purgatory, to commute or expiate penances, that in no sect of men do they, with more ease and cheapness, reconcile a wicked life with the hopes of heaven, than in the Roman communion.
5. And, indeed, if men would consider things upon their true grounds, the church of Rome should be more reproved upon doctrines that infer ill life, than
such as are contrariant to faith. For false superstructures do not always destroy faith; but many of the doctrines they teach, if they were prosecuted to the utmost issue, would destroy good life. And therefore, my quarrel with the church of Rome is greater and stronger upon such points, which are not usually considered, than it is upon the ordinary disputes, which have, to no very great purpose, so much disturbed Christendom: and I am more scandalized at her for teaching the sufficiency of attrition in the sacrament, for indulging penances so frequently, for remitting all discipline, for making so great a part of religion to consist in externals and ceremonials, for putting more force and energy, and exacting with more severity, the commandments of men than the precepts of justice and internal religion ; lastly, besides many other things, for promising heaven to persons after a wicked life, upon their impertinent cries and ceremonials transacted by the priests and the dying person. I confess, I wish the.
zeal of Christendom were a little more active against these and the like doctrines, and that men would write and live more earnestly against them than as yet they have done.
6. But then what influence this just zeal is to have upon the persons of the professors, is another consideration. For as the pharisees did preach well, and lived ill, and therefore were to be heard, not imitated; so if these men live well, though they teach ill, they are to be imitated, not heard ; their doctrines, by all means, Christian and human, are to be discountenanced, but their persons tolerated eatenus ;' their profession and decrees to be rejected and condemned, but the persons to be permitted, because, by their good lives, they confute their doctrines, that is, they give evidence that they think no evil to be consequent to such opinions; and if they did, that they live good lives, is argument sufficient that they would themselves cast the first stone against their own opinions, if they thought them guilty of such misdemeanours.
7. Fourthly : But if we consider their doctrines in relation to government and public societies of men, then, if they prove faulty, they are so much the more intolerable by how much the consequents are of greater danger and malice : such doctrines as these,-the Pope may dispense with all oaths taken to God or inan; he may absolve subjects from their allegiance to their natural prince; faith is not to be kept with heretics; heretical princes may be slain by their subjects. These propositions are so depressed, and do so immediately communicate with matter and the interests of men, that they are of the same consideration with matters of fact, and are to be handled accordingly. To other doctrines ill life may be consequent; but the connexion of the antecedent and the consequent is not, peradventure, perceived or acknowledged by him that believes the opinion with no greater confidence than he disavows the effect and issue of it: but in these the ill effect is the direct profession and purpose of the opinion; and therefore the man, and the man's opinion, are to be dealt withal just as the matter of fact is to be judged; for it is an immediate, a perceived, a direct event, and the very purpose of the opinion. Now these opinions are a direct overthrow to all human society and mutual commerce, a destruction of government, and of the laws, and