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It has recently been asserted by Dr. Norris of Stonyhurst: that Members of the Roman Church cannot consistently enter into an examination of doctrinal points with members of a Protestant Church.
I. No ground of discussion, we are told, can now be admitted : because the principles of the Reformation were fully discussed and finally set at rest in the Council of Trent; the decisions of which Council, under the aspect of its being Ecumenical, are by every Latin revered as the dictates of the Holy Ghost. Henceforth, no one in communion with the Church of Rome can entertain a shadow of doubt : henceforth, his faith is fixed and immoveable. Roma locuta est : causa finita est. This being the case, it were unseemly for a Latin to argue with a Protestant: because the very fact of his stooping to argument would be a tacit admission, both that doubt might still be entertained, and that his own faith was neither fixed nor immoveable.
Such, very lately, has been the published language of the Principal of Stonyhurst, as addressed by him to my very able friend Mr. Whittaker : such also, unless my memory altogether fail me, has been the language of Dr. Doyle in Ireland.
1. Even on the first inspection, many persons will perhaps deem a statement of this character not a little extraordinary. To
argue with an opponent may evince a wish to satisfy that opponent: but, on the part of the individual who enters into the argument, it can scarcely be construed to imply a doubt of the truth of his own opinions.
Be ready always to give an answer to EVERY man, that asketh you A REASON of the hope that is in you'.
The holy Apostle Peter, I presume, did not wish us to understand : that this enjoined perpetual readiness to give an answer to all those, who should inquire concerning the reason of our hope, was to be construed as an acknowledgment; that a Christian entertained serious doubts
of the truth of his religion, and consequently that the faith of a Christian was neither fixed nor immoveable. In any such oddly paradoxical manner, we certainly cannot interpret his very plain admonition. He doubtless meant to intimate : that, if a person should deny the truth of our doctrine, and should call upon us for a reasonable proof of it; we ought not to tell him in reply, that we were precluded from speaking on the subject, because any argument on our part would be a tacit admission that we ourselves entertained doubts; but, on the contrary, we ought always to be ready to give an answer even to every man, who should demand from us a reason of the hope that is in us.
Assuredly, unless we introduce an universal scepticism as to the import of language, this is the plain sense of the Apostle's admonition.
Whence, no less assuredly, his admonition convicts of error all those Romanists, who, on the unscriptural plea, that They are compelled to reject every invitation to inquiry, because they cannot admit any ground of discussion, and because a discussion of what has been already settled would imply an acknowledgment of doubt and uncertainty, decline, when a Protestant calls upon them for
an answer, to state the reason of the hope that is in them.
The inspired Apostle, we see, is express against any such subterfuge: and the principle of his admonition is clear and self-evident.
We can never expect to bring over any person to our opinion, if, in fair and open discussion, we refuse to communicate the ground upon which that opinion reposes.
2. Possibly Dr. Norris and his friends may say; that they do give an answer to the man that asks them a reason of the hope that is in them : for, when questioned on the subject, they reply; that All doctrinal points between themselves and the Reformed were fully discussed and finally set at rest by the Council of Trent, the decisions of which they revere as the very dictates of the Holy Ghost.
(1.) An answer of this sort may be satisfactory to themselves : but can they seriously believe, that it will ever convince or convert an intelligent inquirer after actual truth?
They wish to proselyte, we will say, an individual of this description.
The individual, on whom is tried the experiment, very naturally and very fairly asks for a reason of the hope that is in them.