We are now crossing the threshold of the thirteenth century. The great actors and the stirring times of the twelfth have passed away. The reflection is a solemn one. Beyond the line that separates the two states of being, it is well that we cannot pass. And were it not that the agitation of the twelfth century is really though remotely connected with the great Reformation of the sixteenth, it would possess but little interest to us in the nineteenth. But in these men and their times, we see the great currents of human thought and feeling which had their rise in the monastery, and their results in the civil and religious liberty which we now enjoy under the good providence of God.
A new generation, another class of men, now occupy the ground. The popes, the primates, the emperors, the monks, the philosophers, the demagogues, with whom we had become familiar, have made room for others. But whither are they gone? Where are they now? We only ask the question that we may be led to improve our own day and our own precious opportunities — that we may not have to lament with the prophet of old,
"The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." (Jer 8:20.)
The right time: has come, we believe, when the witnesses for God and His truth should have a special place in our history. They come prominently before us from the dose of the twelfth century. But first of all it may be well to place before our readers certain theological definitions and usages of the Roman church at this time, for we shall find that by these the witnesses were judged, and the papacy gained its power over the lives and liberties of the saints of God.
In the New Testament, where all is plain and simple, we only read of two sacraments, or divine institutions, as connected with a saved people — baptism and the Lord's supper. But in both the Greek and Latin churches the number had been greatly increased and variously stated by different theologians. It was no longer a question of divine revelation, but of the human imagination. Some speak of as many as twelve sacraments; but in the Western church the mystical number of seven was ultimately established, as corresponding with the idea of the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost. And these were — baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance, extreme unction, ordination, and matrimony.
Thus was the snare laid for the feet of the true followers of Christ. It mattered not how sincerely a man believed and obeyed the word of God, if he disregarded the sacraments of the church and her numerous ceremonies, he exposed himself to the charge and the consequences of heresy. On the other hand, it: mattered nothing though the word of God was utterly despised, if obedience to the church was professed. But for all who followed the Lord according to His word escape was impossible. The net was widely spread.
To attempt an enumeration of all the additions made to the outward observances of religion would be hopeless. Many new rites, ceremonies, usages, holidays, and festivals were added from time to time, both by the pontiffs publicly and by the priests privately. But no priestly invention ever made such way, or produced such an impression on the popular mind, as transubstantiation. The dogma nowhere occurs in the writings of either the Greek or Latin Fathers. The first trace of it is to be found in the eighth century. In the ninth, a period of great darkness, the monk Pascasius seems to have given form and definiteness to the monster superstition. In the eleventh, it was strongly opposed by Berengar of Tours, and ably defended by Anselm of Canterbury. It continued to be a subject of contention among the doctors till the fourth Lateran council, which was held in the year 1215. It was then placed among the settled doctrines of the church of Rome. By a canon of that council it was affirmed, that when the officiating priest utters the words of consecration, the sacramental elements of bread and wine are converted into the substance of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. "The body and blood of Christ," they say, "are contained really in the sacrament of the altar under the species of bread and wine; the bread being transubstantiated into the body of Jesus Christ, and the wine into His blood, by the power of God, through the officiating priest. The change thus effected is declared to be so perfect and complete, that the elements contain Christ whole and entire — divinity, humanity, soul, body, and blood, with all their component parts."
From that period, the consecrated bread of the Eucharist received divine honors. Important changes also were introduced about the same time in the manner of administering the sacrament. The consecrated wine, it was said, was in danger of being profaned by the beard dipping into the chalice, from the sick not being able to swallow it, and from children being likely to spill it. So the cup was withheld from the laity and the sick; and infant communion discontinued altogether, at least by the Latins: the Greeks retained it and still practice it.
The most dreadful superstitions naturally followed the establishment of the doctrine of transubstantiation. At a certain part of the mass service the priest elevates the host — the consecrated sacramental wafer — and at the same instant the people fall prostrate before it in worship. On some occasions, the wafer is placed in a beautiful casket, and carried in solemn procession through the streets, every individual, as it passes him, bowing the knee in token of adoration. In Spain, when a priest carries the consecrated wafer to a person who is supposed to be dying, he is accompanied by a man ringing a small bell; and at the sound of the bell all who hear it are obliged to fall on their knees and remain in that posture as long as they hear its sound. The priests make the people believe that the living God, in the form of bread, resides in that casket, and may be carried from place to place. Surely this is the consummation of all iniquity, idolatry, and blasphemy; and the exposing of everything sacred to the ridicule of the profane. It was conceived and cradled in a time of great ignorance, depravity, and superstition.
Such was and is the daring wickedness of the Popish priesthood; such the pitiful but guilty blindness of the Romish church! Yet God has suffered it a thousand years; but a day of reckoning will come when He will judge the secrets of men's hearts, not by the standard of a Roman ritual, but by the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord.
"For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." (Ro 14:11-12.)
The worship of the Virgin Mary originally sprang from the ascetic spirit which became so prevalent in the fourth century. Before this period, there is no trace of the worship of Mary. About the same time — the close of the fourth century — it was discovered and circulated that there were in the temple at Jerusalem virgins consecrated to God, among whom Mary grew up in vows of perpetual virginity. This new doctrine led to the veneration of Mary as the very ideal of the celibate state, and sanctioned the profession of religious chastity. Soon after this it became customary to apply to the virgin the appellation, "Mother of God;" which gave rise to the Nestorian controversy. But, in spite of all opposition, Mary-worship prevailed; and, in the fifth century, images and beautiful paintings of the virgin, holding the infant Jesus in her arms, were placed in all the churches. Thus introduced, she rapidly rose into an object of direct worship; and Mariolatry became the ruling passion of the Romish church. The daily office for Mary, and the days and festivals which had been dedicated to her honor, were confirmed by Urban II. in the Council of Clermont, A.D. 1095.
Reverence for the blessed virgin was now an established doctrine and practice in the church of Rome, and has so continued down to the present day. Romanists may affect to deny that they honor Mary with the worship due to God only, but in their books of devotion prayers to the virgin occupy a prominent place. No prayer, we believe, is in more constant use than the "Ave Maria," or "Hail Mary," which, after quoting a passage from the salutation of the angel Gabriel to the virgin, adds these words, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and in the hour of death, Amen." Again, in another prayer, the virgin is thus addressed, "We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, O ever glorious and blessed Virgin." Another runs thus, "Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope! to thee we cry, poor banished sons of Eve, to thee we send up our sighs, mourning, and weeping in this valley of tears; turn, then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us," etc. She is also called, "Ark of the Covenant," "Gate of heaven," "Morning Star," "Refuge of sinners," and many other such terms, which plainly show the idolatrous place which Mary occupies in the devotions of the Romish church.
The Rosary, that is, a series of prayers, and a string of beads by which they are counted — consists of fifteen decades. Each decade contains ten Ave Marias, marked by small beads, preceded by a Pater Noster, marked by a larger bead, and concluded by a Gloria Patri. The Romish Breviary also, the great universal book of devotion, of which every priest must read a portion each day in private under pain of mortal sin, uses the following strong language as to the virgin: "If the winds of temptation arise, if thou run upon the rocks of tribulation, look to the star, call upon Mary. If thou art tossed on the waves of pride, of ambition, of distraction, of envy, look to the star, call upon Mary. If anger or avarice, or the temptation of the flesh toss the bark of thy mind, look to Mary. If disturbed with the greatness of thy sins, troubled at the defilement of thy conscience, affrighted at the horrors of the judgment, thou beginnest to be swallowed up in the gulf of sadness, the abyss of despair, think upon Mary — in dangers, in difficulties, in doubts, think upon Mary, invoke Mary." So completely did the worship of Mary become the worship of Christendom, that every cathedral, almost every spacious church, had its "Chapel of our Lady."
It is surely more than evident from these quotations, that Mary is addressed as not only an entercessor with her Son, but the first and highest object of worship. And these are calm and sober specimens compared with the wild language of a chivalrous adoration, which is to be found in hymns, psalters, and breviaries. The attributes of Godhead are assigned to her, and she is represented as the Queen of Heaven, and sitting between cherubim and seraphim. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was the natural result of this growing adoration of Mary. It has been re-asserted as an article of faith in the Romish church by the present pope, and generally accepted.
The origin of saint-worship may be considered as coequal with that of Mary-worship, and the fruit of the same soil. Indeed it is the same thing; only Mary is raised high above all the host of saints and martyrs because of her peculiar sanctity and her great influence in heaven.
The veneration that was paid in the early ages of Christianity to those who had faithfully witnessed and suffered for Christ, no doubt led to the practice of invoking the saints, and imploring the benefit of their intercession. A pardonable affection became a superstitious veneration, and ended in a positive adoration. The step between veneration and adoration is easy and natural, though not always observable. Hence the importance of the apostle's warning, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." According to this word it would appear, that all who have not the Person of Christ before them, as the one all-governing object of the heart, have an idol. The apostle has just been speaking of our wondrous place and blessing in Him; as he says, "We are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life." Having eternal life in Him, and being identified with Him as to our position before God, surely He ought to be our one object. Any other is an idol. And the best of Christians are in danger of paying too much homage to some favorite teacher or leader. How will all this compare with John's epistle in the last great day? The Lord keep us from undue veneration for the creature, whether living or dead!
A great and influential system arose out of these small beginnings, through the subtlety of the priesthood, which ultimately brought enormous wealth to the church. Pilgrimages with their atonement money and free-will offerings are parts of the system. At an early period it was customary to perform religious services with peculiar sanctity at the graves of the saints and martyrs. But as the darkness thickened and the spirit of superstition increased, this was not enough. In the fourth century splendid churches were built over their once humble burial-places; and even some supposed relic of the saint was enshrined in the building erected to his honor. It was usually affirmed that the body of the miracle-working saint was buried under the high altar; and that there was a special efficacy in the intercession of such saints. This drew myriads to their shrines; some to see wonders done, others to have miracles wrought in their favor, or receive good to their souls. Pilgrimages soon became the most popular kind of worship, and as the worshippers were lavish with their oblations — their hearts being warm and tender — it was greatly encouraged by a sordid priesthood. During the sixth century an incredible number of temples arose in honor of the saints, and numerous festivals were instituted to keep up the remembrance of these holy men.
According to Milman and others, so popular did saint-worship become, that they were in danger of being overlooked because of their multiplicity, or rather, infinity. "The crowded calendar knew not what day it could assign to the new saint without clashing with, or dispossessing, an old one. The East and the West vied with each other in their fertility. But of the countless saints of the East, few comparatively were received in the West; and the East as disdainfully rejected many of the most famous, whom the West worshipped with the most earnest devotion. Still the multiplicity of the saints bears witness to the universality of the idolatry." Rivalry of church with church, of town with town, of kingdom with kingdom, of order with order, kept up a state of excitement for centuries, in order to attract the concourse of worshippers to the shrine of their patron saint. The: fame of some new celebrated saint, such as St. Thomas of Canterbury, drew away, for a time, the traffic and profit from other places. Hence the necessity of creating some fresh excitement by fresh discoveries of that which would turn the tide in favor of the new shrine. Even while we write — September, 1873, most sorrowful to say, nearly a thousand pilgrims from England are on their way, not with naked feet as of old, to Paray-le-monial, in France; there to bow down before the shrine of the "Sacred Heart," in honor of the blessed Mother, Margaret Mary Alacoque. This is a surprise to all, and awakens deep thoughts in many minds as to its real object in the mind of the papacy. Professedly of course it is for the good of the pilgrims' souls, the honor of the saint, and the triumph of the church. If we go as far back as the days of Origen, who was the first to inculcate saint-worship; or to the shrine of Martin of Tours, which was the most popular in the fourth and fifth centuries; and come down to the present day, we have about fourteen hundred years of saint-worship and pilgrimages both in the Greek and Latin churches. No wonder that the Mahometans concluded that all Christians were idolaters.
Most of us have been familiar with the names of what may be called universal saints, such as the early fathers and the patron saints of kingdoms; but to discover on a closer search the extent of this idolatry is truly appalling. Throughout the extent of Roman Christendom there is to every country, community, and individual, an intercessor with Christ, who is the One Great Intercessor between God and man. Many Catholics chose their patron saint from their birthday — the saint's day on which they were born. The saint is regarded as the peculiar protector of the individual, community, or country; so that scarcely less than divine power and divine will are assigned to the patron saints. The argument is that, having been human, and still possessed of human sympathies, they are less awful, more accessible, than Christ, and may exercise their influence with Him for the benefit of the places and companions of their earthly sojourn. They are represented however as being changeable, and easily offended. Fruitful harvests, victory in war, deliverance in affliction, safety in travelling, and the like mercies, are attributed to their prayers; but, if there should be calamities, the saint is supposed to be offended, and must be appeased. More honor must be paid to his shrine, and more costly offerings must be laid upon his altar.
The history of relic-worship being similar in its character to that of saint-worship, a brief notice will be sufficient. Its origin is the same. The passion, the weakness, it may be, of our nature, for cherishing memorials of beloved ones, was used by the enemy to betray Christians into the most degrading kind of worship. If it was argued, our fondness for the memorials of human affection be so excusable, and so amiable, "how much more so of objects of holy love, the saints, the blessed Virgin, the Savior Himself!" But, however specious such reasoning may be, it is neither fair nor true. The deep delusion, the Satanic power, and the terrible wickedness of relic-worship, lies mainly in the fact, that the church of Rome maintains that there is an inherent indefeasible power in relics to work miracles; and as such they are used and devoutly worshipped, from the pope down to the lowest in her communion.
As early as the days of Constantine, reverence for the relics of saints and martyrs had assumed the more definite form of positive adoration. The Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, in her superstitious zeal to do honor to the places in Palestine which had been hallowed by the life and death of the Savior, erected splendid churches over the supposed places of His birth, His death, and ascension. During the necessary excavations the Holy Sepulchre, it was affirmed, came to light; and in the sepulcher were found the three crosses and the tablet, with the inscription originally written by Pilate in three languages. The news of this wonderful discovery rapidly spread all over Christendom, and created great excitement. As it was doubtful to which of the crosses the tablet belonged, a miracle decided the claims of the true cross. Singularly enough, the nails of the Savior's passion were also found in the holy sepulcher. These precious treasures, we need scarcely say, proved inexhaustible capital for the traffic in relics. Parts of the true cross were made into crucifixes for the rich, and parts were enshrined in the principal churches both in the East and the West. So rapidly did the wood of the cross vegetate, said the wits, that it soon grew into a forest.
The passion for relics, which had been increasing every century, was greatly nourished by the crusades. Many saints before unknown, and relics innumerable, were then introduced to the Christians of the West. Passing over the vast quantity of old bones of reputed saints and other smaller relics, which were brought from the East, and became an important branch of traffic, we notice two or three of the most famous. And chief amongst these was the "holy vessel" — a green glass cup, said to be an emerald — brought from Caesarea, and venerated as having been used at the last supper. Another relic of great fame was the seamless coat of our Lord said to be found at Argentcull in 1156; and also the holy coat, said to have been presented by the Empress Helena to the Archbishop of Treves.
We need only further add as a practical illustration of relic-worship, that in holy week every year the pope and cardinals go in procession to St. Peter's at Rome, for the purpose of adoring the three great relics. When performing the ceremony they kneel in the nave of the church, and the relics, which are exhibited from the balcony above the statue of St. Veronica, consist of a part of the wood of the true cross, one half of the spear that pierced the Savior's side, and the holy countenance. This latter relic is a piece of cloth on which our Lord is said to have miraculously impressed His countenance, and which 'was brought to Italy for the cure of the Emperor Tiberias when afflicted with leprosy. The ceremony takes place in solemn silence. Outwardly no act of worship is more profound in the Roman Catholic church. Could folly, we may ask, or absurdity, or human weakness, or Satanic power, be carried to a greater height? For men of education, and, in many cases, men of cultivation and piety, to bow down in profoundest adoration before a piece of rotten wood, a broken spear, and a painted rag, can only be accounted for on the principle of the most solemn judicial blindness. Gross darkness has long settled down on both priest and people through their deliberate concealment of the word of God and quenching the light of the Holy Spirit. And this must always be the case, more or less, whether for Catholic or for Protestant, when God and His word are disregarded, as saith the prophet,
"Give glory to the Lord your God, before he cause darkness, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and while ye look for light, he turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness." (Jer 13:16.)
Augustine, bishop of Hippo, is said to be the first who suggested the doctrine of a middle state, but his opinions are vague and uncertain. It was not formally received as a dogma of the church of Rome until the time of Gregory the Great, A.D. 600. He has the reputation of being the discoverer of the fires of purgatory. In discussing the question of the state of the soul after death, he distinctly says, "We must believe that for some slight transgressions there is a purgatorial fire before the day of judgment." But as the growth of this doctrine for hundreds of years is extremely difficult to trace, we will refer at once to the decrees of the Council of Trent, the great and undisputed authority on the subject.
"There is a purgatory," says the Council, "and the souls detained there are assisted by the suffrages of the faithful, but especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the Mass. This holy council commands all bishops diligently to endeavor that the wholesome doctrine concerning purgatory, delivered unto us by venerable fathers and sacred councils, be believed, held, taught, and everywhere preached by Christ's faithful... In the fire of purgatory the souls of just men are cleansed by a temporary ]punishment, in order to be admitted into their eternal country, into which nothing that defileth entereth... The sacrifice of the Mass is offered for those that are deceased in Christ, not entirely purged."
Roman Catholic writers attempt to support this dreadful dogma from various passages of scripture, but chiefly from the Apocrypha and tradition. With the two latter we have nothing to do. Anything; men please may be proved from such uncertain sources; but nothing can be more daring, and at the same time more futile, than their misapplication of scripture on this subject. Take two texts as an example:
There is much vagueness with Romish writers, and even with the Council of Trent, as to where purgatory is, and what it actually is. The general opinion seems to be, that it is under the earth, and adjoining to hell — that it is a middle place between heaven and hell, in which the soul passes through the fire of purification before it enters heaven.
But how material fire can purify a spirit, Catholic writers have been careful enough not to define. Those in the middle state, says the Council of Florence, A.D. 1439, are in a place of torment, "but whether it be fire, or storm, or anything else, we do not dispute." Still the general voice seems to be that it is a prison, in which the soul is detained, and tortured as well as cleansed; and that, not by mental anguish or remorse, but by a real fire, or what fire produces. And yet so varied are the opinions of their best theologians, that some have represented the torments as a sudden transition from extreme heat to extreme cold. But the vague speculations of Augustine, and the adventurous dogmas of Gregory, were soon authenticated by dreams and visions. In the dark ages there were many travelers to those subterranean regions, who inspected and reported the secrets of purgatory. Take one report as an example, and that the mildest and the least offensive we can choose.
"Drithelm, whose story is related by authorities no less than Bede and Bellarmine, was led on his journey by an angel in shining raiment, and proceeded in the company of his guide towards the rising sun. The travelers arrived at length in a valley of vast dimensions. This region, to the left, was covered with roasting furnaces, and, to the right, with icy cold, hail, and snow. The whole valley was filled with human souls, which a tempest seemed to toss in all directions. The unhappy spirits, unable in the one part to bear the violent heat, leaped into the shivering cold, which again drove them into the scorching flames which cannot be quenched. A numberless multitude of deformed souls were in this manner whirled about and tormented, without intermission, in the extremes of alternate heat and cold. This, according to the angelic conductor who piloted Drithelm, is the place of chastisement for such as defer confession and amendment till the hour of death. All these, however, will at the last day be admitted to heaven; while many, through alms, vigils, prayers, and especially the Mass, will be liberated even before the general judgment." Any one may see at a glance the intention of this vision. It is skilfully drawn up, so as to act powerfully on the fears of the serious, to increase the power of the priesthood, and to secure large legacies for the church.
And is this the place, we may ask, to which holy mother church sends her pious and penitent children? Yes; and it is only the justified that go there. Those who die under the guilt of mortal sins go straight to hell, over the gloomy gates of which is written, "There is no hope." How dreadful the thought of purgatory must always be to every devout mind! As an illustration of this, we may mention that we happen to know at this moment a young lady who has lately embraced the Catholic religion, or, as the term is, "gone over to Rome." She is rigidly devoted to the church, fresh in her first love, but evidently winces at the thought of purgatory. "I believe I shall go there," she will say; "I hope to go; for as I cannot pretend to be good enough to go straight to heaven when I die, I must pass through purgatory; but I may not be more than five hundred years there." There is no doubt of her being a true Christian, and justified from all things; but such is the blinding power of Satan through the papal system. We can only rejoice that ere long they will be happily undeceived, according to many portions of the word of God; such as —
"Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."... "Absent from the body, present with the Lord."... "Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise."... "Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better."... "The beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom."... "Thy sins, which were many, are forgiven." (Col 1:2; 2 Corinthians 5; Luke 23; Philippians 1; Lu 16:22)
It is perfectly plain from these passages, and many others that might be quoted, that the same moment the soul of the believer leaves the body it is present with the Lord in the paradise of God — surely the happiest place in all heaven. What then can be the object of the Romish church so to pervert scripture — so to deny the efficacy of the blood of Christ, which is said to cleanse the believer from all sin? To answer this question, the mind must comprehend and grapple with the very depths of Satan.
Historically, the use which has been made of this Satanic superstition by the Romish priesthood has been to act upon the fears and affections of mankind. What would the young lady referred to above, or her fond parents, not give to save her five hundred years' torment in that dreadful abode? Praying souls out of purgatory, by Masses said on their behalf, became a source of untold treasure to the church. With a rich man dying, who could not take his wealth with him and who dreaded the torments of purgatory, the priest could make his own terms. Besides, out of this superstition arose the scandalous traffic in papal indulgences to mitigate the pains of the middle passage.
But there is yet another point of wickedness connected with this dogma, which we wonder the heart of man or of Satan could ever have conceived, and that is the priest's authority over his victim after he is dead and buried. He makes the departing soul believe that it will still be dependent on his influence, his intervention; that he has the key of purgatory, and that his doom hangs upon the word from the priest's lips. Surely these are the depths of Satan — we tremble as we seek to penetrate them. But lies they all are; and the most fearful blasphemy for any man to say that the keys of heaven, hell, and purgatory have been entrusted to him.
"Fear not," said the blessed Lord to John; "I have the keys of hell [hades] and of death." He only has power and authority over the unseen world, but scripture makes all plain to faith; that God "hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son." Here it is plainly taught that the believer is not only pardoned and saved, but that he is now delivered from the whole realm of darkness, and now translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. The language need not be mistaken; "Who hath" — not who will, or who can — but "Who hath:" it is true now, and the truth is to be enjoyed now. There is no power but in the hands of the risen Lord, and no purgatory but His precious blood, unless it be the washing of water by the word also. "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." (Re 1:17-18; Col 1:13; Ps 51:7; John 13; 15; 1 John 5.)
The Greek Abyssinian, and Armenian churches reject the doctrine of purgatory in name, but hold it substantially. Prayers and masses are said for the dead, and incense burned over the graves of the deceased.
Like every false system, popery is glaringly inconsistent with itself. Falsehood, the mother of lies, is written upon her forehead, though there may be many honest and godly hearts in her communion. How unlike the perfect unity of divine truth! Though written by so many different persons, on so many different subjects, under so many different circumstances, and in so many different places and ages of the world, yet we have a perfect whole. Who can fail to see the glories of the cross, the riches of divine grace, the lost condition of the sinner, and his full salvation, all through scripture; for example, in Abel's lamb, Noah's ark, and in the cleansing of the leper? But in passing from one sacrament to another of the Romish system we find the flattest contradictions. 'Thus it is with purgatory and extreme unction. If there be any truth in extreme unction, purgatory is a mere delusion. There can be no such place, and no need for such a place. The declared object, and the effect of the sacred oil, according to the Council of Trent, is to wipe away the remains of sins. The heretic who despises it must go straight to the depths of hell. Thus it is administered.
"The priest, having entered the house, shall put over his surplice a violet-covered stole, and present the cross to the sick person, to be devoutly kissed. Prayers having been recited, and holy water sprinkled, the priest dips his thumb in the holy oil, and anoints the sick, in the form of the cross. Beginning with the sense of sight, he anoints each eye, saying, 'The Lord, through His holy unction, and His most gracious compassion, forgive thee whatever sins thou hast committed by seeing.' After this manner there are seven anointings, one for each of the five senses — eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, and the other two are the breast and feet." After many prayers and crossings, and the ceremony of burning the cloth which wiped the oil off the different parts of the anointed body and the priest's thumb, the dying man or woman is pronounced in a fit state to pass with safety to the port of eternal happiness.
This sacrament is never administered while there is any expectation of recovery to health. It is called extreme because it is the last to be administered. By means of this so-called infallible sacrament for the dying, one would naturally expect that purgatory would receive very few subjects from the church of Rome, so that it must be peopled by Protestants who despise the priestly ointment, or by those in the Romish communion who were disqualified to receive the sacrament. But there is great variety of opinion amongst Romanists on this subject. Some think that every soul, without exception, from the pope downwards, however saintly the life may have been, or however properly the last sacrament may have been administered, must pass through purgatory — that no soul can pass direct from earth to heaven. They argue that, as no man has complete control over his thoughts, foolish and even sinful thoughts may pass through his mind during the administration of extreme unction, or immediately after it; therefore the soul must pass through the realm of purgatory on its way to heaven. Of course the sin may be so small that the detention may be very short. But even a Gregory or a Bernard must be purified by the fires of purgatory. Alas for the children of Rome! we would exclaim; they must all be the slaves of the prince of purgatory before they can taste the liberty and happiness of heaven. How dreadful, how gloomy, the thoughts of death must ever be! How different from the thoughts and feelings of the great apostle, when he said, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." If he lived, he lived Christ; he enjoyed the fullest and sweetest fellowship with Him: if he died, he made a gain upon that... "Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better." Besides, the word of God is positive as to all believers in Christ Jesus — "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." (Php 1:21-23; 2Co 5:8.)
The allusion in the New Testament to the ancient practice of anointing has given the Catholic writers great boldness in pressing the necessity of this sacrament. But they carefully overlook or conceal the fact, that scriptural anointing was for the miraculous healing of the body, and the lengthening of the days of the living. Romish unction is for the soul — a permanent sacrament for the conveyance of grace, the pardon of sin, the attainment of salvation, in the hour of death. Apostolic unction was for the recovery of health; extreme unction is the last preparation for death.
"And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them."
"Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up." (Mr 6:13; Jas 5:14-15.)
It is not difficult to see how superstition would use such passages for the accomplishment of its own ends; but it is perfectly plain that the original anointing was used for the recovery of health in particular persons, and continued while the gift of healing and the power of working miracles remained, which probably scarce survived the apostolic age. And extreme unction, in its present form, was unknown in the church during the first eleven centuries of her history. It was established during the reign of ignorance and priestcraft in the twelfth century, and ultimately received the stamp of the great seal of the Council of Trent.
The sacraments of the church of Rome being considered necessary to spiritual life, and at the disposal of the priesthood, necessarily gave them enormous power. But none of its many sacraments tended to increase the influence of the priests, or to enslave and lower the morality of the people, more than auricular confession. From the Emperor to the peasant the whole heart of every man and woman belonging to the church of Rome was laid open to the priest. No act, scarcely a thought, at least in the dark ages, was kept a secret from the father confessor. To conceal or disguise the truth was a sin to be punished with the most humiliating penance, or, it might be, with the pains of hell for ever. Before a power so arbitrary, so irresponsible, so dreaded, who did not tremble? The priests thus became a kind of spiritual police, to whom every man was bound to inform against himself. They knew the secrets of all persons, of all families, of all governments, of all societies, and, of course, how to rule and lay their plans so as to accomplish whatever they pleased. The conscience, the moral as well as the religious or spiritual being of man, were in their power. It was like the seal and consummation of all wickedness and blasphemy. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, masters and servants, were all under their secret, but real, supervision and control.
The power thus gained in the confessional was exercised for the alleged good of the church — sometimes on granting, delaying, or refusing absolution, as the case might be. All depended on the ends to be gained by the church: the most selfish, cruel, and unprincipled use has often been made of information thus religiously given. We refer especially to the long protracted cases of dispute and discipline, which never could be settled until the church had gained the day. Excommunication was a real thing in those days, and the pope a real antagonist. When Hildebrand thundered a sentence of excommunication against Henry, released his subjects from their oath of fealty, and pronounced him deprived of his throne, he found it a vain thing to fight against the pope, though he was at that time the greatest sovereign in Europe. He was forced to yield; and in the most degraded condition, barefoot, and shivering with cold, he humbly supplicated the inexorable monk to remove the censure of the church, and reinstate him on his throne. The awful sentence of excommunication cut the offender off, whatever his rank or station, and as salvation was considered an utter impossibility beyond the pale of the Romish church, there was no hope for any one dying under this sentence. Even the body might be denied a resting-place in consecrated ground, but the soul would be the prey of demons for ever.
The history of this innovation is not easily traced, neither is it necessary for our purpose. The question of private confession, and of priestly absolution, had often been discussed by the theologians, but no definite law on the subject was laid down by the church till the beginning of the thirteenth century. In the year 1215, under the pontificate of Innocent III., the practice of auricular confession was authoritatively enjoined by the fourth Council of Lateran upon the faithful of both sexes at least once a year. From that time, down to the present day, it has been considered a positive divine ordinance in the church of Rome. It is also practiced in the Greek and Coptic churches.
The principal passages of scripture adduced by Romanists on this subject, are —
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed." (Jas 5:16)
"Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." (Joh 20:23.)
The first of these passages evidently refers to the mutual confession of faults on the part of Christians; and the second to church discipline; but neither certainly to the secret confession of sins into the ear of a priest, with the view of receiving absolution. The duty, or privilege, of confession must be admitted by all, Protestants as well as Catholics; but the question is, to whom ought we to confess? To a priest, or to God? Numerous passages might be quoted, from both the Old and New Testaments, to prove that confession of sin is to be made to God. Take one from each.
"And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me." (Jos 7:19)
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive our selves , and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins , He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."; (1 John 1: 8, 9.)
But the form of confession prescribed by the Romish church to be used by every penitent at the confessional will best show us its real character. He must kneel down at the side of his confessor, and make the sign of the cross, saying, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, "I confess to Almighty God, to the blessed Mary, ever virgin, to blessed Michael the archangel, to blessed John Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter, and Paul, to all the saints, and to you, my ghostly father, that I have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word, mad deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." At this point of the ceremony the penitent specifies his several sins in their details, without evasion or equivocation; the most indelicate or the most diabolical are poured into the ear of the priest, whatever he may be. We know what many of them have been. When the priest has satisfied himself with details, the penitent goes on — "Therefore I beseech the blessed Mary, ever virgin, the blessed Michael the archangel, blessed John Baptist, the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints, and you, my ghostly father, to pray to our Lord God for me. I am heartily sorry, purpose amendment for the future, and most humbly ask pardon of God, and penance and absolution of you, my ghostly father."
The penitent is now in the hands, and entirely at the mercy of the priest. He may prescribe the most unreasonable penance, or delay his absolution until his own evil ends are gained. But there we must leave them, and briefly notice, under the head of Roman Theology, the kindred dogma of
The system of papal indulgences, which gradually rose to such heights and ultimately produced such effects, demands a careful though brief notice. It has ever been the practice of the evil genius of Rome to introduce by small beginnings the greatest evils that characterize her history. Imperceptibly, the thin end of the wedge is introduced by the presiding spirit of her policy, but when fairly introduced, the whole machinery of Rome is employed to drive it home. By an apparent respect for the memory of the dead, and a proper regard for the tokens of their affection, the sin of saint and relic worship was introduced, which resulted in the most positive and confirmed idolatry. And so with the whole system of indulgences. The ecclesiastical corruption, once admitted, remained, increased, and spread from age to age, until all Christendom was overrun with its wickedness, and the moral and religious sense of mankind so insulted by the infamous traffic in indulgences, that a protest was raised and the Reformation followed.
The chief feature in the new doctrine of indulgences was the discovery of a resource or treasury in the church, by the application of which sins were remitted, without the painful or humiliating process of penance, and without the observance of the sacraments. It was alleged by the deep contriver of this sweeping dogma, that there was an infinite treasure of merit in Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the other saints, which was more than sufficient for themselves. Although the Savior Himself was said to be the source of all merit, the merits of the saints were also much spoken of, and this gave rise to the new idea of works of supererogation. By their works of penance, and by their undeserved sufferings in this world, they had done more than was necessary for their own salvation; and by these works of supererogation, with the superabundant merits of Christ, a treasury was formed, of which the pope possessed the keys, and which he could apply for the relief of offenders, both in this life and in purgatory. The power of the keys was thus substituted for the efficacy of the sacrament.
This is the popish theory of indulgences, but its antiscriptural character betrays its author. It is glaringly antiscriptural, as it promises remission of sins without repentance; and, even on Catholic ground, its wickedness is manifest. It supersedes the penitential exercise of the individual; it dissolves the whole discipline of the church; it offers for a sum of money the pardon of all sins committed, a license for sins to be committed; it gives a written guarantee of deliverance from the pains of purgatory, and from hell itself. It encourages the most flagrant iniquity with the profession of Christianity; indeed by this dogma morality was severed from religion. Could even papal depravity go farther? Men emboldened to let loose the reins of vice, to follow at large their own evil ways, and then purchase eternal forgiveness, without any conditions of repentance, for a piece of money! What a day of reckoning awaits the Jezebel of Rome, and all the children of her seduction! The Lord preserve His people from her seductions now!
History places the first formal indulgence issued by the church of Rome in the early part of the eleventh century, but the system was brought into its fullest operation by the crusades. Pope Urban II., at Clermont, in the year 1095, proclaimed a plenary indulgence and remission of sins for all who should share in the holy war. It became customary after this period to grant indulgences of lesser degrees. Absolution from a hundred years or more of purgatorial pain might be purchased from a bishop, by repairing or enlarging a church, by building a bridge, or enclosing his forest; and also for extra religious duties, such as reciting a certain number of prayers before a certain altar, pilgrimages to relics, and the like. The pope, according to the theory of the vatican, is the sovereign dispenser of the church's treasury, and this power he dispenses to bishops in their respective dioceses. The pope may grant indulgences to all Christians; the bishop's power is limited to his own diocese.
Thus the system of indulgences prevailed more and more extensively as time advanced; and although, in consequence of its glaring abuses, some of the ablest of the schoolmen did not hesitate to express their objections to the trade that was carried on in the sale of indulgences, others wrote in favor, and men generally were unwilling to suffer a long course of severe penance, of unpleasant austerities, when they could obtain immediate absolution by pecuniary payments, or so much almsgiving to churches or churchmen. From the earliest period it was the practice of the church of Rome to impose painful works or sufferings on offenders; when these were discharged or undergone with humility, they were called satisfactions; but when the penance was shortened or entirely remitted because of some consideration in money or good works, this was called an indulgence. The price was regulated according to the nature of the crime and the circumstance of the purchaser.
The following curious event, as quoted by Milner from Burnet, will give the reader a better idea of the extent of this remarkable trade than anything we could say on the subject, and this happened at a time when, owing to the Reformation, the sale to a great extent, had decreased. "Burner informs us, that the scandalous sale of pardons and indulgences had by no means so completely ceased in popish countries as is commonly taken for granted. He says, that in Spain and Portugal there is everywhere a commissary, who manages the sale with the most infamous circumstances imaginable. In Spain the King, by an agreement with the pope, has the profits. In Portugal the King and the pope go shares.
"In the year 1709 the privateers of Bristol took a gallion, in which they found five hundred bales of bulls — or printed pardons in the name of the pope — for indulgences... and sixteen reams were in a bale; so that they reckon the whole came to three millions eight hundred and forty thousand. These bulls are imposed on the people and sold, the lowest at three ryals, a little more than twenty pence, but some were as high as about eleven pounds of our money. All are obliged to buy them against Lent. Besides the account given of this in the cruising voyage, I have a particular attestation of it by Captain Dampier."
But the reader will be better prepared for this almost incredible statement if we are spared to continue our history to the period of its occurrence. In the meantime enough has been said to give him a correct idea of the foundation, character and effects oil the traffic. The sacrament of matrimony will come so fully before us in its workings, that we need not now give it a separate paper. So we shall leave for the present the painfully interesting subject of Roman theology, or alas! alas! papal Christianity, and return to our general history.
Chapter 24 - Innocent III and his Times A.D. 1198-1216