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insoluble; and that the long, profuse, and confident controversy of men whom I will assume to be sincere, reasonable, and learned on both sides, proves beyond question that the case of Honorius is doubtful.
I would ask, then, is it scientific, or passionate to reject the cumulus of evidence surrounding the line of two hundred and fifty-six pontiffs, because one case may be found which is doubtful? doubtful, too, be it remembered, only on the theory that history is a wilderness without guide or path; in no way doubtful to those who, as a dogma of faith, believe that the revelation of faith was anterior to its history and is independent of it, being divinely secured by the presence and assistance of Him who gave it.
And this is a sufficient answer to the case of Honorius, which of all controversies is the most useless, barren, and irrelevant.
I should hardly have thought, at this time of day, that any theologian or scholar would have brought up again the cases of Vigilius, Liberius, John XXII., etc. But as these often-refuted and senseless contentions have been renewed, I give in the note references to the works and places in which they are abundantly answered.*
Such is the first part of the answer to the alleged opposition of history.
2. We will now proceed to the second and more complete reply.
The true and conclusive answer to this objection consists, not in detailed refutation of alleged difficulties, but in a principle of faith; namely, that whensoever any doctrine is contained in the Divine tradition of the Church, all difficulties from human history are excluded, as Tertullian lays down, by prescription. The only source of revealed truth is God, the only channel of His revelation is the Church. No human history can declare what is contained in that revelation. The Church alone can determine its limits, and therefore its contents.
* Appendix, p. 244,
When then the Church, out of the proper fountains of truth, the Word of God, written and unwritten, declares any doctrine to be revealed, no difficulties of human history can prevail against it. I have before said: “The pretentious historical criticism of these days has prevailed, and will prevail, to undermine the peace and the confidence, and even the faith of some. But the city seated on a hill is still there, high and out of reach, It cannot be hid, and is its own evidence, anterior to its history, and independent of it. Its history is to be learned of itself." “It is not therefore by criticism on past history, but by acts of faith in the living voice of the Church at this hour, that we can know the faith.”*
On these words of mine, Quirinus makes the following not very profound remark: “The faith which removes mountains will be equally readysuch is clearly his meaning—to make away with the facts of history. Whether any German Bishop will be found to offer his countrymen these stones to digest, time will show.”+ Time has shown, faster than Quirinus looked for. The German Bishops at Fulda, in their pastoral letter on the Council, speak as follows: “To maintain that either the one or the other of the doctrines decided by the General Council is not contained in the Holy Scripture, and in the tradition of the Church - those two sources of the Catholic faith—or that they are even in opposition to the same, is a first step, irreconcilable with the very first principles of the Catholic Church, which leads to separation from her communion. Wherefore, we hereby declare that the present Vatican Council is a legitimate General Council; and, moreover, that this Council, as little as any other General Council, has propounded or formed a new doctrine at variance with the ancient teaching, but has simply developed and thrown light upon the old and faithfully-preserved truth contained in the deposit of faith, and in opposition to the errors of the day has proposed it expressly to the belief of all faithful people; and, lastly, that these decrees have received a binding power on all the faithful by the fact of their final publication by the Supreme Head of the Church in solemn form at the Public Session.” *
* Pastoral, etc., 1869, p.
125. f Letters from Rome, etc., by Quirinus, second series, p. 348–9.
Let us, then, go on to examine the relation of history to faith.
The objection from history has been stated in these words: “There are grave difficulties, from the words and acts of the Fathers of the Church, from the genuine documents of history, and from the doctrine of the Church itself, which must be altogether solved, before the doctrine of the infallibility of the Roman Pontiff can be proposed to the faithful as a doctrine revealed by God.”
* “ Times,” Sept. 22, 1870
Are we to understand from this that the words and acts of the Fathers, and the documents of human history, constitute the Rule of Faith, or that the Rule of Faith depends upon them, and is either more or less certain as it agrees or disagrees with them? or, in other words, that the rule of faith is to be tested by history, not history by the rule of faith? If this be so, then they who so argue lay down as a theological principle that the doctrinal authority of the Church, and therefore the certainty of dogma, depends, if not altogether, at least in part, on human history. From this it would follow that when critical or scientific historians find, or suppose themselves to find, a difficulty in the writings of the Father or other human histories, the doctrines proposed by the Church as of Divine revelation are to be called into doubt, unless such difficulties can be solved. The gravity of this objection is such, that the principle on which it rests is undoubtedly either a doctrine of faith or a heresy.
In order to determine whether it be the one or the other, let us examine first what is the authority and place of human history.
To do so surely and shortly, I will transcribe the rules of Melchior Canus, which may be taken as the doctrine of all theological Schools.
The eleventh chapter of his work “De Locis Theologicis," is entitled “de Humanæ Historiæ Auctoritate.” In it he lays down the following principles :
1. “Excepting the sacred authors, no historian can be certain, that is, sufficient to constitute a certain faith in theological matter. As this is obvious and manifest to every one, it has no need to be proved by our arguments.
2. “Historians of weight, and worthy of confidence, as some without doubt have been, both in Ecclesiastical and in secular matters, furnish to a theologian, a probable argument.
3. “If all approved historians of weight concur in the same narrative of an event, then from their authority a certain argument can be educed, so that the dogmas of theology may be confirmed also by reason.”
Let us apply these rules to the case of Honorius, and to the alleged historical difficulties. Is this one in which “all approved historians of weight concur in the same narration of events?” In the case of Honorius, it is well known that great discrepancy prevails among historical critics. The histories themselves are of doubtful interpretation. But the Rule of Faith is the Divine tradition of revelation proposed to us by the magisterium, or doctrinal authority, of the Church. Against this, no such historical difficulties can prevail. Into this they cannot enter. They are excluded, as I have said, by a prescription which has its origin in the Divine institution of the Church. The revelation of the faith, and the institution of the Church, were both perfect and complete, not only before human histories existed, but even before the inspired Scriptures were written. The Church itself is the Divine witness, teacher, and judge, of the revelation entrusted to it. There exists no other. There is no tribunal to which appeal from the Church can
* Melchior Canus, Loci theol. lib. xi. c. 4.