Saint Thomas Aquinas

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Archbishop John Hughes on Protestant Bibles

One of the great champions of American Catholicism was Archbishop John Hughes of New York (June 24, 1797 – January 3, 1864). I will be presenting a full article regarding his life and times in the near future. In the meantime, here is a brief excerpt from one of his addresses concerning Catholics using Protestant Bibles, and the error of hi-jacking the Scriptures outside the Church. 


"I pass now to the reasoning of one learned gentleman who spoke yesterday, and defended the Protestant Bible. Now this was unnecessary in that gentleman—it was in him a work of supererogation to vindicate the Protestant Scriptures—it was useless to defend a point which had not been attacked. It was time lost; and yet, perhaps, not altogether lost; for in some respects it may have been profitable enough. In entering on its defence, he said it was the instrument of human liberty throi»ghoiit the world—wherever it was, there was light and liberty; and where it was not, there was bondage and darkness; and he brought it round so, that he almost asserts that our Declaration of Independence has been copied from the Bible. No doubt the just and righteous principles on which that Declaration has its foundation, have their sanction in the Bible, but I deny their immediate connection, and on historical grounds, for it is known that its author looked upon St. Paul as an impostor; consequently their connection is not historically true. But while the gentleman referred to our notes (but which we disown and repudiate), as containing principles of persecution—how was it that after the Protestant Bible, " without note and comment," came into use, every denomination of Protestants in the whole world that had the misfortune, for it must have been a misfortune, to be yoked to civil power, wielded the sword of persecution, and derived their authority for so doing from the naked text? Yes, in Scotland, in all her confessions of faith—in England, and I appeal to her penal laws against Catholics, and those acts by which the Puritans and Dissenters were pursued, men who had the misfortune, like ourselves, to have a conscience, were driven out, and all was done on the authority of the Bible, without note or comment, and for the public good and the good of the Church. I do not say that the Bible sanctioned persecution, but I deny that the absence of notes is an adequate preventive. I refer to history. And almost to this day, though the Bible has been translated three hundred years, even in liberal governments, the iron heel of persecution has been placed on the dearest rights of Catholics. The gentleman to whom I alluded said, no doubt, what he knew would be popular out of doors, for he seems, with others, to imagine that the world began at the period of the Reformation. He seems to think that everything great originated at that period. But does he not know that eight hundred editions of the Bible had been printed before the Reformation? And does he not know that two hundred editions had been circulated in the common tongue, in the common language of the country ? And has he yet to learn that the first prohibition to read the Bible came not from a Catholic, but from a Protestant—from Protestant Henry VIII., of "glorious memory?" He was the first to issue a prohibition, and it was not till Catholics saw the evil—not of the Bible, but the bad uses men were making of the Bible, that they placed its perusal under certain restrictions, and cautioned their people against hastily judging of it for themselves. All had been united and harmonious, but by the use, or abuse, which men made of the Bible, all became doubt and speculation, the positive revelation of Christ was shaken or destroyed. They saw this Bible, and what then? But, while these school gentlemen contend that it is a shield against infidelity, and that all sects here agree, how is it out of the schools? Why, no sects agree upon it. How is it that the Bible, which is given by the inspiration of God, the God of truth, is made use of in this city even, to prove a Trinity, and to disprove a Trinity? How is it that Trinitarians quote it to prove their doctrines, and Unitarians quote it to establish the opposite doctrines ? How is it that whilst one says from the Bible that God the Father is God alone, and that Christ is not equal to Him, for He says, "The Father is greater than I," another argues from the same Bible that the Father and Son are equal, because Christ says "The Father and J are one?" And another comes with the Bible in his hand, and says, I believe, and I can prove it from this Bible that Christ alone is the Almighty God, and the Father and the Spirit are only attributes of the same person! Why, this Bible which they say is the foundation of all truth, and they say well, when it is truly understood, a grace which God can vouchsafe, and, no doubt, lie does to many, this Bible is harmonious in its every doctrine. But that is not the point—the point is the uses we see men make of it, and this is the sum of our reason that we wish our children not to be taught in the manner in which Protestant children are taught in reference to the Bible.

And then, again, if you teach that there is a hell, according to the Bible, others will contend that the Scriptures teach no such doctrine, and so I might pass on to other points, to show you whilst they thus contend for the Bible as the guide to truth, there is this disagreement among them, at least in this country, where human rights and liberties are understood as allowing every man to judge for himself. Is there not, then, danger—is there no ground to apprehend that when our children read this Bible, and find that all these different sects father all their contradictions on the Bible as their authority, they will derive their first notions of infidelity from these circumstances? But there is another ground on which it is manifest we cannot allow our children to be taught by them. Whilst we grant them the right to take, if they please, the Protestant Bible as the rule of their faith, and the individual right to judge of the Bible—and this great principle they proclaim as the peculiar and distinctive, and most glorious trait in their religious character and history—and let them boast of it, there is no difficulty on the subject—they interpret the Bible by the standard of reason, and therefore, as there is no given standard of reason—as one has more and another less—they scarcely ever arrive at the same result, while the Bible, the eternal Word of God, remains the same. But this is not a Catholic principle. Catholics do not believe that God has vouchsafed the promise of the Holy Spirit to every individual, but that He has given His Spirit to teach the Church collectively, and to guide the Church, and therefore we do not receive as the Bible except what the Church guarantees; and wanting this guarantee, the Methodist gentleman failed to establish the book, which he produced with its notes, as a Catholic Bible. We do not take the Bible on the authority of a " King's Printer," who is a speculating publisher, who publishes it but as a speculation. And why ? Because by the change of a single comma, that which is positive may be made negative, and vice versa, and then is it the Bible of the inspired writers ? It is not. They proclaim, then, that theirs is a Christianity of reason; of this they boast, and let them glory. Ours is a Christianity of faith; ours descends by the teaching of the Church; we are never authorized to introduce new doctrines, because we contend that no new doctrine is true, from the time of tho apostles, unless it has come from the mind of God by a special revelation, and to us that is not manifest among the reformers.

We are satisfied to trust our eternal interests, for weal or woe, on the security of that Catholic Church, and the veracity of the divine promises. You perceive, therefore, that Protestants may agree in the system where this Bible is thus introduced; but it is not in accordance with the principles of Catholics, that each one shall derive therefrom his own notions of Christianity. It is not the principle of Catholics, because they believe in the incompetence of individual reason, in matters of such importance. It is from this self-sufficiency and imputed capacity that men derive such notions of self-confidence, which, owing to a want of power to control in some domestic circles, if taught to our children, lead to disobedience and disregard of the parental authority."

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