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Bellarmine subjoins another opinion of Scotus; which, if it had been adopted by his opponent Kemnitius and others, would, as he justly remarks, have put an end to all controversy. The opinion is, that as the Church had declared what was Scripture—from Scripture so declared, Transubtantiation could be clearly proved: that the true sense of Scripture must be that which is assigned by the author of Scripture: and that the same Holy Spirit, who dictated Scripture to the Apostles and Prophets, had by the Church declared what was Scripture. But His Eminence shall again be allowed to state the matter in his own language:
“Tertio addit, quia Ecclesia Catholica in generali Concilio Scripturam declaravit, ex Scripturâ sic declaratâ manifestè probari transubstantiationem. Non enim potest non esse verus Scripturæ sensus, quem is tradit, qui Scripturam condidit : idem autem Spiritus Sanctus est, qui et Scripturam dictavit Apostolis et Prophetis, et qui eam per Ecclesiam declaravit. Utinam modum istum loquendi Scoti, Kemnitius et cæteri Lutherani imitarentur; nulla enim controversia remaneret.”
All these things being duly weighed, I cannot but think that Bellarmine and others, had it not been for the authority of their Church, would probably have arrived at conclusions, respecting Transubstantiation as a doctrine of Scripture, very different from those of which they now appear as the defenders. If indeed I do not mistake, the present section affords some grounds for surmising what might have been the result of their enquiries on the subject. As a deduction from what has already been stated, let us place the two modes of interpret
ing the words of Institution, so that they may be seen together.
According to the literal scheme, what was bread, and to all appearance remained bread, all at once became, and continued to be, the actual, material body of Christ. This follows from a verbal explanation so rigorous, as to be inapplicable to the general language of Scripture. The doctrine thus deduced cannot fairly be said to be warranted by the context. It requires the belief of that which every faculty, with which men have been endowed, pronounces not to be true-shocks moral feeling by the carnal materiality of the object presented to the thoughts—is utterly unlike everything else proposed in Holy Writ for human faith—and may lead (perhaps I ought to have written, has led) to many superstitious observances, and to still more fearful evils.
The figurative plan represents our Saviour as presenting to his disciples the tokens and memorials of himself, dying on the cross.
This doctrinefounded on those principles of interpretation which are constantly and unconsciously applied to ordinary speech—and which our Lord's language especially requires—is supported by the context. It is in harmony with every part of the Christian faith and in accordance with every moral feeling-falls in with the entire character of the Sacred Writings and involves nothing but what is calculated to excite and sustain the purest feelings of piety.
Those persons totally mistake the matter, who fancy that the doctrine of Transubstantiation is but of minor importance—constituting an unessential difference of opinion, between people of different persuasions in religion. That doctrine is the central power which binds the Roman system together. It regulates every motion, and acts upon every particle. The very establishment, indeed, of such a tenet afforded full proof of Ecclesiastical authority already in existence, and was the great cause of its continuance. To comprehend the mode in which the doctrine produced its effects, we must combine, in our imaginations, the wondrous mystery which it professed to reveal—the more than human character with which it seemed to invest the priesthood--and the ignorance and superstition of the people. Even to the more intelligent, the very imperfection of its Scriptural evidence did but exalt that authority which boldly undertook to supply the place of Scripture. But as centuries rolled away, the case began to alter. More was thought of Scripture and less of supplemental authority; and the time has at length come, when the acknowledged defect of Scriptural Proofs, on this subject, is considered, by thinking men, as subversive of the claims of the Roman Catholic Church, to promulgate its own Decrees, as the Faith of the Gospel.
THE MODE OF INTERPRETING THE WORDS OF INSTITUTION:
MUST THEY BE UNDERSTOOD FIGURATIVELY?
DR WISEMAN resolves the question—"whether we must understand the words of Institution figuratively”–
- into the question — " whether we are compelled to prefer the figurative interpretation, in order to escape from greater difficulties, such as contradictions and violations of the law of nature.” This, then, is the subject now to be discussed. But we shall do well first to understand the circumstances under which we are about to resume our enquiry. The learned author, we find, here supposes that the point at issue, so far as it depends upon the language of Scripture, has been settled in his own favour. His principles of interpretation he holds to have been undeniable-his mode of applying them accurate in the extreme—and consequently, his results beyond controversy. On the contrary, satisfied, as I am, that his whole plan of proceeding is objectionable in the highest degree, I can discover nothing, in his attempt to establish his literal meanings, but a failure as complete as can be imagined. Now, we know beforehand, that whatever difficulties, of the kind just alluded to,
may exist, they furnish so many reasons against a literal, and in favour of a figurative interpretation. So that, if hermeneutics have been treacherous allies in Dr Wiseman's cause, philosophy, as an enemy, will on that account be the more destructive. Meanwhile the Protestant has the consciousness of being powerfully supported, both by Scripture honestly explained, and by those external considerations which no one despises, till he feels them to be irreconcileably at variance with his own notions. On these grounds, I reject, with unspeakable scorn, the insinuations contained in the following extract, in which he wishes to persuade his readers that Protestants receive not the doctrine of Transubstantiation solely on account of the philosophical difficulties by which it is surrounded :
“Having proved that, in the language used by our Saviour, he can only have had one meaning... we cannot depart from that meaning, but can only choose between believing or disbelieving him. If you say, that what he asserts involves an impossibility, the only choice is, will you believe what he states, in spite of its teaching what to you seems such, or will you reject his word and authority for it? It cannot be, that he does not state it, when all the evidence which can possibly be required or desired proves that he did. In a word, Christ says, “This is my body,' and every rule of sound interpretation tells you that he must have meant to say it simply and literally: your selection is between belief or disbelief that it is his body; but you are shut out from all attempts to prove that he could not mean to make that literal assertion.” (p. 196.)
Duns Scotus—the great doctor subtilis of the 14th century—could not discover, as Dr Wiseman can, that the Real Presence in the Eucharist may