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The Difficulties of Romanism in respect to

INDULGENCES sprang out of the penitential discipline of the primitive church. Persons, who had lapsed into idolatry, or who had been guilty of any scandalous crime, were separated by ecclesiastical authority from the body of the faithful: nor were they re-admitted, until, by a course of austere penitence, they had sufficiently evinced their sincerity and their amendment. The church, however, which, like every other well-organized society, possessed and exercised the power of ejecting or receiving members, was induced, when she had well-grounded reason to believe repentance sincere, occasionally to relax the severity, or to shorten the time of this required probation. When that was done, the grace, accorded to the penitent, was naturally styled an indulgence.

Such, and such only, were the indulgences of the primitive church: and I know not what objection can be rationally taken to the system of her moral discipline.

But, when the unscriptural notion of a meritorious expiatory satisfaction to God was annexed to the ancient probationary penance required by the church, the same idea infected also the simple primitive indulgence. If self-inflicted punishment for sin, or punishment inflicted by ecclesiastical authority, could make an expiatory satisfaction to the divine justice: then the power of remitting such punishment was equivalent to the power of declaring, that the church,

according to her own good pleasure and discretion, could assign to the divine justice a smaller measure of expiatory satisfaction than that justice would otherwise have claimed. Now this extraordinary speculation, in pursuance of which the church undertook to determine, that God not unfrequently was and ought to be satisfied with a lighter degree of expiation, than his own justice, if left to itself, would have exacted from the offender: this extraordinary speculation sprang naturally and of necessity from the new doctrine of an expiatory satisfaction to God engrafted upon the primitive very harmless, or rather laudable, discipline of penance and indulgence.

The revolting arrogance of so strange a speculation, when plainly exhibited in its true colours, and when no longer decorated or disguised by the specious eloquence of the bishop of Aire, must, I think, shock every well regulated mind.* To imagine that the divine justice would agree to be satisfied with a smaller quantity of expiation than the amount of its original requirement, and that each priest enjoyed the singular privilege of adjusting the terms of this yet more singular bargain between God and his creature, is contrary alike to Scripture and to every consistent idea which we can form of the divine attributes. Yet this theory was but the legitimate offspring of the new doctrine of satisfaction as superadded to the old penitential discipline of the church.

I. We are assured, however, by the bishop of Aire, that indulgences, viewed (be it observed) under the present precise aspect, rest upon the authority of St. Paul.

That great apostle, says he, teaches us positively, that to the church belongs the double right of prescribing and of mitigating satisfactory punishments.t

For the establishment of this position, the bishop refers to two connected passages in the two epistles to the Corinthians: but, in neither of those passages,

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can I discover the slightest vestige of any punishments, which, in his lordship's sense of the word, can be denominated satisfactory.*

According to the ancient and 'godly discipline of the primitive church, the Corinthians, as St. Paul expresses himself, had delivered an incestuous member of their community unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. This they did under the immediate sanction of the anxious apostle: and afterward, when they were satisfied as to the sincerity of the man's contrition, they pardoned him the disgrace which he had brought upon the church, and readmitted him to the enjoyment of his former privileges as a baptized christian. The circumstance and the ground of his readmission were communicated to St. Paul; and St. Paul, in reply, informs them, that, as they had forgiven the offender, so likewise did he for their sakes in the person of Christ.

Such was the very simple transaction, from which the bishop has learned, that, by the special authority of St. Paul, to the church belongs the double right of both prescribing and mitigating satisfactory punishments: punishments, that is to say, according to the bishop's avowed doctrine, which should be able to make a meritorious expiatory satisfaction, not merely to the outraged church viewed as a body-corporate, but even to the divine justice itself. Yet, where is there a single syllable about any such meritorious satisfaction being made to the justice of God, from the beginning to the end of the entire narrative?

II. Bad, however, as indulgences may be when viewed under the present most unscriptural aspect, their evil admitted of a still higher degree of subli


The bishop of Aire, himself a most respectable ecclesiastic, has no hesitation in pronouncing, with or without the consent of his church, that the validity * 1 Corinth. v. 1-5. 2 Corinth. ii. 6--10. † 1 Corinth. v. 5.

+ 2 Corinth. ii. 10.

of indulgences, like the validity of absolutions, entirely depends upon the dispositions of the sinner.* This, no doubt, is making the best of the matter: but a lamentable story yet remains to be told.

His lordship treads lightly over ground, which he is too good and too sensible a man to deem hallowed. What was the crying abomination, which first roused the indignant spirit of the great and much-calumniated Luther? The pope actually drove a gainful pecuniary traffic in ecclesiastical indulgences! Instruments of this description, by which the labour of making a fancied meritorious satisfaction to God by penance or by good works was pared down to the dwarfish standard that best suited the purse of a wealthy offender, were sold in the lump, to a tribe of monastic vagabonds, by the prelate, who claimed to be upon earth the divinely-appointed vicar of Christ. These men purchased them of the pope, by as good a bargain as they could make; and then, after the mode of travelling-pedlars, they disposed of them in retail to those who affected such articles of commerce, each indulgence of course bearing an adequate premium. The madness of superstition could be strained no higher: the Reformation burst forth like a torrent; and Luther, with the Bible in his hand, has merited and obtained the eternal hatred of an incorrigible church.

III. It is worthy of observation, that the bishop is wholly silent as to the imaginary fund, whence the inexhaustible stock of papal indulgences is supplied. Whether he was himself ashamed of the doctrine of supererogation, or whether he thought it imprudent to exhibit such a phantasy before the eyes of his English correspondent, I shall not pretend to determine. From whatever motive, the bishop omits it altogether. His lordship's defect, however, is abundantly supplied by the authoritative declaration of the reigning pontiff.

"We have resolved," says pope Leo in the year

*Discuss. Amic. vol. ii. p. 229.

1824, "by virtue of the authority given to us from 'heaven, fully to unlock that sacred treasure, com'posed of the merits, sufferings, and virtues, of Christ our Lord, and of his virgin mother, and of all the 'saints, which the author of human salvation has 'intrusted to our dispensation-To you, therefore, ' venerable brethren, patriarchs, primates, arch-bish'ops, bishops, it belongs to explain with perspicuity the power of indulgences: what is their efficacy in the remission, not only of the canonical penance, but also of the temporal punishment due to the divine justice for past sin; and what succour is 'afforded out of this heavenly treasure, from the 'merits of Christ and his saints, to such as have 'departed real penitents in God's love, yet before they had duly satisfied by fruits worthy of penance 'for sins of commission and omission, and are now 'purifying in the fire of purgatory, that an entrance may be opened for them into their eternal country 'where nothing defiled is admitted.'

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From a stock of merits, which the pope claims to have at his disposal, indulgences are issued, which shall not only remit the canonical penance imposed by the church, but which shall also liberate the fortunate possessors from the temporal punishment due for past sin to the divine justice, and which shall open the doors of purgatory to those suffering spirits who departed without having made full satisfaction for their iniquities by fruits worthy of penance.

These then, it seems, are the avowed doctrines and practices of the Latin church, not merely during the dark ages of barbarous credulity, but in the full light of the nineteenth century: these are the high behests of that church, which, according to the explicit declaration of its visible head to every protestant community, is the mother and mistress of all other churches, and out of which there is no salvation.*

* Bull for the observance of the Jubilee, a. d. 1825.

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