« Prev 13. The Ninth Commandment. Next »

§ 13. The Ninth Commandment.

This commandment forbids all violations of the obligations of veracity. The most aggravated of this class of offences is bearing false wituess against our neighbour. But this includes every offence of the same general character; as the command thou shalt uot kill, forbids all indulgence or manifestation of malice.

The command to keep truth inviolate belongs to a different class from those relating to the Sabbath, to marriage, or to property. These are founded on the permanent relations of men in the present state of existence. They are not in their own nature immutable. God may at any time suspend or modify them. But truth is at all times sacred, because it is one of the essential attributes of God, so that whatever militates against, or is hostile to truth is in opposition to the very nature of God. Truth is, so to speak, the very substratum of Deity. It is in such a sense the foundation of all the moral perfections of God, that without it they cannot be conceived of as existing. Unless God really is what He declares Himself to be; unless He means what He declares Himself to mean; unless He will do what He promises, the whole idea of God is lost. As there is no God but the true God, so without truth there is and can be no God. As this attribute is the foundation, so to speak, of the divine, so it is the foundation of the physical and moral order of the universe. What is the immutability of the laws of nature, but a revelation of the truth of God? They are manifestations of his purposes. They are promises on which his creatures rely, and by which they must regulate their conduct. If those laws were capricious, if the same effects did not uniformly follow from the same causes, the very existence of living beings would be impossible. The food of one day 438might be poison the next. If a man did not reap what he sowed, there could be no security for anything. The truth of God, therefore, is written on the heavens. It is the daily proclamation made by the sun, moon, and stars in their solemn procession through space, and it is echoed back by the earth and all that it contains.

The truth of God, too, is the foundation of all knowledge. How do we know that our senses do not deceive us; that consciousness is not mendacious? that the laws of belief which by the constitution of our nature we are forced to obey, are not false guides? Unless God be true there can be no certainty in anything; much less can there be any security; we can have no confidence in the future: no assurance that evil will not ultimately triumph over good, darkness over light, and confusion and misery over order and happiness. There is, therefore, something awfully sacred in the obligations of truth. A man who violates the truth, sins against the very foundation of his moral being. As a false god is no god, so a false man is no man; he can never be what man was designed to be; he can never answer the end of his being. There can be in him nothing that is stable, trustworthy, or good.

There are two classes of sins which the ninth commandment forbids. The first is, all forms of detraction; everything which is unjustly or unnecessarily injurious to our neighbour’s good name; and the second, all violations of the laws of truth. This latter, indeed, includes the former. Bearing false witness, however, being the definite thing forbidden, should be separately considered.


The highest form of this offence is bearing false testimony in a court of justice. This includes the guilt of malice, falsehood, and mockery of God; and its commission justly renders a man infamous, and places him outside of the pale of society. As it strikes at the security of character, property, and even of life, it is an offence which cannot be passed by with impunity. The false swearer is, therefore, a criminal in the sight of the civil law, and subject to public disgrace and punishment.

Slander is an offence of the same character. It differs from the sin of bearing false witness, only in not being committed in a judicial process, and in not being attended by the same effect. The slanderer, however, does bear false witness against his neighbour. He does it in the ears of the public, and not in those of a jury. The offence includes the elements of malice and falsehood against which the command is specially directed. The circulation of 439false reports, “tale-bearing,” as it is called in Scripture, is indicative of the same state of mind, and comes under the same condemnation. As the law of God takes cognizance of the thoughts and intents of the heart, in condemning an external act it condemns the disposition which tends to produce it. In condemning all speaking ill of our neighbour, the Scriptures condemn a suspicious temper, a disposition to impute bad motives, and an unwillingness to believe that men are sincere and honest in the avowal of their principles and aims. This is the opposite of that charity which “thinketh no evil,” “believeth all things, hopeth all things.” It is still more opposed to the spirit of this law, that we should cherish or express satisfaction in the disgrace of others, even if they be our competitors or enemies. We are commanded to “rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep.” (Rom. xii. 15.)

The usages of life, or the principles of professional men, allow of many things which are clearly inconsistent with the requirements of the ninth commandment. Lord Brougham is reported to have said in the House of Lords, that an advocate knows no one but his client. He is bound per fus et nefas, if possible, to clear him. If necessary for the accomplishment of that object, he is at liberty to accuse and defame the innocent, and even (as the report stated) to ruin his country.389389Lord Broughman, according to the public papers, uttered these sentiments in vindication of the conduct of the famous Irish advocate Phillips, who on the trial of Courvoisier for the murder of Lord Russell, endeavored to fasten the guilt on the butler and housemaid, whom he knew to be innocent, as his client had confessed to him that he had committed the crime. It is not unusual, especially in trials for murder, for the advocates of the accused to charge the crime on innocent parties and to exert all their ingenuity to convince the jury of their guilt. This is a cruel and wicked injustice, a clear violation of the command which says. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”


1. The simplest and most comprehensive definition of falsehood is, enunciatio falsi. This enunciation need not be verbal. A sign or gesture may be as significant as a word. If, to borrow Paley’s illustration, a man is asked which of two roads is the right one to a given place, and he intentionally points to the wrong one, he is as guilty of falsehood as if he had given the wrong directions in words. This is true; nevertheless there is a power peculiar to words. A thought, a feeling, or a conviction 440is not only more clearly revealed in the consciousness when clothed in words, but it is thereby strengthened. Every man feels this when he says, “I believe;” or, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

2. The above definition of falsehood, although resting on high authority, is too comprehensive. It is not every enunciatio falsi which is a falsehood. This enunciation may be made through ignorance or mistake, and therefore be perfectly innocent. It may even be deliberate and intentional. This we see in the case of fables and parables, and in works of fiction. No one regards the Iliad or the Paradise Lost as a repertorium of falsehoods. It is not necessary to assume that the parables of our Lord, are veritable histories. They were not designed to give a narrative of actual occurrences. Intention to deceive, therefore, is an element in the idea of falsehood. But even this is not always culpable. When Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives to slay the male children of their countrywomen, they disobeyed him. And when called to account for their disobedience, they said, “The Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.” (Ex. i. 19, 20.) In 1 Samuel xvi. 1, 2, we read that God said to Samuel, “I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons. And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the Lord said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Here, it is said, is a case of intentional deception actually commanded. Saul was to be deceived as to the object of Samuel’s journey to Bethlehem. Still more marked is the conduct of Elisha as recorded in 2 Kings vi. 14-20. The king of Syria sent soldiers to seize the prophet at Dothan. “And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people I pray thee with blindness. And He smote them with blindness, according to the word of Elisha. And Elisha said unto them, This is not the way neither is this the city: follow me and I will bring you to the man whom ye seek. But he led them to Samaria. And it came to pass, when they were come into Samaria, that Elisha said, Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see. And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw; and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria;” that is, in the hands of their enemies. The prophet. however, would not allow them to be injured; but commanded 441that they should be fed and sent back to their master. Examples of this kind of deception are numerous in the Old Testament. Some of them are simply recorded facts, without anything to indicate how they were regarded in the sight of God; but others, as in the cases above cited, received either directly or by implication the divine sanction. Of our blessed Lord himself it is said in Luke xxiv. 28, “He made as though (προσεποιεῖτο, he made a show of) he would have gone further.” He so acted as to make the impression on the two disciples that it was his purpose to continue his journey. (Comp. Mark vi. 48.) Many theologians do not admit that the fact recorded in Luke xxiv. 28, involved any intentional deception; because the “simulatio non fuerit in verbis veritati contradicentibus, sed in gestibus veritati consentientibus. Christus . . . . agebat, ut qui iturus esset longius, et revera iturus fuerat, nisi rogatus fuisset a discipulis, alia fortasse ratione se iis manifesturus. . . . . Alii dicunt, simulationem fuisse tentatoriam, æque ac illam, quæ in Abrahami historia a scriptore sacro commemoratur Gen. xxii. 2. In eandem sententiam descendunt Beausobre et L’Enfant, qui in notis gallicis ad Luc. xxiv. 28, ita scribunt: C’est un feinte innocente et pleine d’amour, par laquelle Jésus-Christ veut éprouver la foi de ses disciples. Ainsi en usent les medicins à l’égard des malades, et les pères à l’égard de leurs enfans.390390Gerhard, Loci Theologici, xiii. 177; edit. Tübingen, 1766, vol. v. p. 346, Cotta’s note.

It is the general sentiment among moralists that stratagems in war are allowable; that it is lawful not only to conceal intended movements from an enemy, but also to mislead him as to your intentions. A great part of the skill of a military commander is evinced in detecting the intentions of his adversary, and in concealing his own. Few men would be so scrupulous as to refuse to keep a light in a room, when robbery was apprehended, with the purpose of producing the impression that the members of the household were on the alert.

On these grounds it is generally admitted that in criminal falsehoods there must be not only the enunciation or signification of what is false, and an intention to deceive, but also a violation of some obligation. If there may be any combination of circumstances under which a man is not bound to speak the truth, those to whom the declaration or signification is made have no right to expect him to do so. A general is under no obligation to reveal his intended movements to his adversary; and his adversary has no right to suppose that his apparent intention is his real purpose. 442Elisha was under no obligation to aid the Syrians in securing his person and taking his life; and they had no right to assume that he would thus assist them. And, therefore, he did no wrong in misleading them. There will always be cases in which the rule of duty is a matter of doubt. It is often said that the rule above stated applies when a robber demands your purse. It is said to be right to deny that you have anything of value about you. You are not bound to aid him in committing a crime; and he has no right to assume that you will facilitate the accomplishment of his object. This is not so clear. The obligation to speak the truth is a very solemn one; and when the choice is left a man to tell a lie or lose his money, he had better let his money go. On the other hand, if a mother sees a murderer in pursuit of her child, she has a perfect right to mislead him by any means in her power, because the general obligation to speak the truth is merged or lost, for the time being, in the higher obligation. This principle is not invalidated by its possible or actual abuse. It has been greatly abused. Jesuits taught that the obligations to promote the good of the Church absorbed or superseded every other obligation. And, therefore, in their system not only falsehood and mental reservation, but perjury, robbery, and assassination became lawful if committed with the design of promoting the interests of the Church. Notwithstanding this liability to abuse, the principle that a higher obligation absolves from a lower stands firm. It is a dictate even of the natural conscience. It is evidently right to inflict pain in order to save life. It is right to subject travellers to quarantine, although it may grievously interfere with their wishes or interests, to save a city from pestilence. The principle itself is clearly inculcated by our Lord when He said, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice;” and when He taught that it was right to violate the Sabbath in order to save the life of an ox, or even to prevent its suffering. The Jesuits erred in assuming that the promotion of the interests of the Church (in their sense especially of the word Church) was a higher duty than obedience to the moral law. They erred also in assuming that the interests of the Church could be promoted by the commission of crime; and their principle was in direct violation of the Scriptural rule that it is wrong to do evil that good may come.

The question now under consideration is not whether it is ever right to do wrong, which is a solecism; nor is the question whether it is ever right to lie; but rather what constitutes a lie. It is not simply an “enunciatio falsi,” nor, as it is commonly defined by 443the moralists of the Church of Rome, a “locutio contra mentem loquentis;”391391This definition is given by Dens, Theologia, De Mendacio, N. 242, edit. Dublin, 1832, vol. iv. p. 306. but there must be an intention to deceive when we are expected and bound to speak the truth. That is, there are circumstances in which a man is not bound to speak the truth, and therefore there are cases in which speaking or intimating what is not true is not a lie. The Roman moralists just referred to, answer the question, Whether it is ever lawful to lie? in the negative. Dens, for example goes so far as to say: “Non licet mentiri (i.e., to utter what is not true, as he defines the word ‘mendacium’) ad avertendum mortem aut interitum Reipublicæ, vel quæcunque alia mala: in hujusmodi perplexitatibus debent homines confugere ad auxilium Dei, angeli custodis,” etc.392392Ibid. N. 243, p. 308. This is a sound rule, provided the obligation to speak the truth exists. It is far better that a man should die or permit a murder to be committed, than that he should sin against God. Nothing could tempt the Christian martyrs to save their own lives or the lives of their brethren by denying Christ, or by professing to believe in false gods; in these cases the obligation to speak the truth was in full force. But in the case of a commanding general in time of war, the obligation does not exist to intimate his true intentions to his adversary. Intentional deception in his case is not morally a falsehood. Although the Romanist theologians lay down the rule that a mendacium is never lawful, and although they define mendacium as stated above, yet they teach that if a confessor is asked whether he knows a fact confided to him in the confessional, he is at liberty to answer, No; meaning that he does not know it scientia communicabili. That is, he is authorized, according to their own definition of the word, to tell a downright falsehood. He may be right to reply to the question, Whether he knows a fact communicated to him in his character of confessor, by saying, “I am not at liberty to answer;” but it is hard to see how he could be justified in a direct falsehood.393393“Confessarius interrogatus a tyranno an Titius confessus sit homicidium, respondere potest et debet: ‘nescio;’ quia confessarius id nescit scientia communicabili. Imo, etiamsi instaret tyrannus, et diceret, ‘An hoc nescis scientia sacramentali?’ Respondere adhuc posset: ‘nescio.’ Ratio est, quia tyrannus bene scit se de hoc jus interrogandi non habere, nec confessarius ut homo scit se scire, sed uti vicarius Dei et scientia incommunicabili.’” John Peter Gury, Compendium Theologiæ Moralis, new edit. Tornaci. vol. i. p. 201.

In order to include the third element entering into the nature of criminal falsehood, Paley defines a lie to be a violation of a promise. Every violation of a promise is not a lie, for it may not 444include the other elements of a falsehood; but every lie is a violation of a promise. It arises out of the very nature of human society, and from the relation in which men of necessity stand to each other, that every man is expected to speak the truth, and is under a tacit but binding promise not to deceive his neighbours by word or act. If in any case he is guilty of intentional deception, he must be able to show that in that particular case the obligation does not exist; that is, that the party deceived has no right to expect the truth, and that no virtual promise is violated in deceiving him. This is certainly the fact in military manœuvres, and in some other cases of rare occurrence.

This, however, is not always admitted. Augustine, for example, makes every intentional deception, no matter what the object or what the circumstances, to be sinful. “Ille mentitur,” he says, “qui aliud habet in animo, et aliud verbis vel quibuslibet significationibus enuntiat.”394394De Mendacio, 3; Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1837, vol. vi. p. 712, a. Again he says,395395Ibid. 5, (iv.), p. 715, a.Nemo autem dubitat mentiri eum qui volens falsum enuntiat causa fallendi: quapropter enuntiationem falsam cum voluntate ad fallendum prolatam, manifestum est esse mendacium.” He reviews the cases recorded in the Bible which seem to teach the opposite doctrine. This would be the simplest ground for the moralist to take. But, as shown above, and as generally admitted, there are cases of intentional deception which are not criminal.

Kinds of Falsehood.

Augustine divides falsehood into no less than eight classes. But these differ for the most part simply as to their subject matter, or their effects. The division as given by Thomas Aquinas and very generally adopted since,396396Aquinas, Summa, II. ii. 110, 2; edit. Cologne, 1640, p. 203, a, of third set. “Potest dividi mendacium, in quantum habet rationem culpæ, secundum ea quæ aggravant, vel diminuunt culpam mendacii ex parte finis intenti. Aggravat autem culpam mendacii, si aliquis per mendacium intendat alterius nocumentum: quod vocatur mendacium perniciosum. Diminuitur autem culpa mendacii, si ordinetur ad aliquod bonum, vel delectabile, et sic est mendacium jocosum: vel utile, et sic est mendacium officiosum, quo intenditur juvamentum alterius, vel remotio nocumenti. Et secundum hoc dividitur mendacium in tria prædicta.” The first, according to Romanists, is a mortal sin, the two latter are regarded as venial. is into three classes; the pernicious, the benevolent, and the jocose. Under the first head come all falsehoods which are instigated by any evil motive and are designed to promote some evil end. It includes not only the direct enunciation of what is false, but also all quibbling or prevarication.


Mental Reservation.

This class includes also all cases of mental reservation. It should be said in justice to the teachers of Moral Theology in the Romish Church, that, although the Jesuits made themselves so obnoxious by asserting the propriety of mental reservation, they at least in general terms condemn it. “Restrictio mentalis,” says Gury, “est actus mentis verba alicujus propositionis ad alium sensum quam naturalem et obvium detorquentis vel restringentis.” This he says is unlawful, because it is “simpliciter mendacium.” It is true these theologians make serious modifications of this rule. It is only of reservation “proprie mentalis,” that is, when the true meaning of the speaker cannot be detected, that this condemnation is pronounced. If it be possible, from the circumstances of the mode of expression, to know what he means, the rule does not always apply. There are cases in which it is allowable to permit a man to deceive himself. Under this head is brought in the case above referred to. It is said that a confessor may properly say that he does not know a thing, when he means that he does not know it as a man, or with a knowledge that is communicable. So it is said that if a man be asked by one who has no right to interrogate him, whether he has committed a crime, he may say, No; meaning none that he was bound to confess. So also it is taught that public persons, ambassadors, magistrates, advocates, etc., may use mental reservation in its wider sense. In like manner a servant may say his master is not at home, whom he knows to be in the house, because such denial so often means that the person inquired for does not wish to be seen.397397Gury, ut supra, vol. i. pp. 200, 201. This opens a very wide door of which not only Jesuits, but men professing to be Protestants and Christians freely avail themselves. To an unsophistical mind all the instances above specified are cases of unmitigated falsehood.

The extent to which the Jesuits carried the principle of mental reservation is a matter of notoriety. The three rules by which they perverted the whole system of morals, and which threatened to overturn the very foundations of society, and which led at one time to the suppression of the order, were, —

1. The doctrine that the character of an act depended solely on the intention. If the intention be good, the act is good; whether it be falsehood, perjury, murder, or any other conceivable crime. Pascal quotes the Jesuit moralist Escobar as laying down the general 446principle, “that promises are not binding unless there was an intention of keeping them, at the time they were made.”398398Blaise Pascal, Lettres écrites a un Provincial, edit. Paris, 1829, p. 180; Escobar, III. ex. iii. n. 48. On the same principle, that the intention determines the character of the act, the murder of Henry III. in 1589; of the Prince of Orange in 1584; of Henry IV. of France in 1610; and especially the massacres on the feast of St. Bartholomew, were all justified. This principle is not confined to the Jesuits. When in 1819 young Sand murdered Kotzebue, the poet, from political motives, he not only justified the act to the last, but perhaps the general sentiment among his younger countrymen was that of approbation. Even De Wette, the distinguished theologian and commentator, in a letter of consolation to the mother of Sand, spoke of the assassination as “a favourable sign of the times.”399399De Wette did not approve of the assassination of Kotzebue in a moral point of view. His language was: “So wie die That geschehen ist, mit diesem Glauben, mit dieser Zuversicht, ist sie ein schönes Zeichen der Zeit. — Die That ist — allgemein betrachtet — unsittlich und der sittlichen Gesetzgebung zuwiderlaufend. Das Böse soll nicht durch das Böse überwunden werden, sondern allein durch das Gute. Durch Unrecht, List und Gewalt kann kein Recht gestiftet werden, und der gute Zweck heiligt nicht das ungerechte Mittel.” Quoted in the Conversations-Lexicon, 7th edit. Leipzig, 1827, art. Wette (de). The letter, although thus guarded, led to the loss of his professorship in Berlin and his virtual banishment from the city. It was regarded very much as the killing of Marat by Charlotte Corday is regarded by the public to this day. When the doctrine comes to be formalized as a moral principle that the intention determines the character of the act, so that murder committed for the good of the Church or the State is commendable, then the law of God is set at nought and the bonds of society are unloosed.

2. The doctrine of probability. If it was probable that an act was right there was no sin in committing it, although in the conviction of the agent the act was wrong; and an act was probably right, if among the moralists there was a difference of opinion on the subject.

3. The above-mentioned doctrine of mental reservation. It was taught that a man might innocently swear he did not do a certain thing, provided he said to himself, not audibly to others, “I mean I did not do it ten years ago.” All these different kinds of lying, though referred to different heads by the Jesuit teachers, belong properly to the class of pernicious falsehoods, such as the law of God utterly condemns.

The second class, called “mendacia officiosa,” includes all falsehoods uttered for a good object. Such as those told the sick by their attendants, to comfort or encourage them; those told by 447detectives for the discovery of crimes; or those which are designed to prevent evil or secure good for ourselves or others. All such falsehoods are pronounced by Romanists to be venial sins, mere peccadilloes.400400Dens, ut supra, vol. iv. N. 242, p. 307. “Mendacium officiosum dicitur, quod committitur solum causa utilitatis propriæ vel alienæ: v. g. quis dicit, se non habere pecunias, ne iis spolietur a militibus.” And on the same page he says, “Officiosum autem et jocosum sunt ex genere suo peccatum veniale.” See also Gury, vol. i. p. 199. “Mendacium efficiosum peccatum venale est, per se, quia in eo gravis deordinatio non apprehenditus.” The example given by Dens, in the place referred to, of this class of sins, is the case of a man having money, denying that he has it to avoid being robbed. This is very different from the doctrine of Augustine, who teaches that it is unlawful to lie to save life, or even to save a soul.401401De Mendacio, 9, (vi.); Works, ut supra, vol. vi. p. 719 ff. Augustine’s position is consistent with what was said above, that there are occasions on which a higher obligation absolves from a lower, as our Lord himself teaches. But that principle applies to the case of falsehood only when the enunciation of what is untrue ceases to be falsehood in the criminal sense of the word. It has been seen that three elements enter into the nature of falsehood properly so called, (1.) The enunciation of what is false. (2.) The intention to deceive. (3.) The violation of a promise; that is, the violation of the obligation to speak the truth, the obligation which rests upon every man to keep faith with his neighbour. In military manœuvres, as above remarked, there is no expectation, and no right for expectation, that a general will reveal his true intentions to his adversary, and therefore in that case deception is not falsehood, because there is no violation of an obligation. But when a confessor was called upon by a heathen magistrate to say whether he was a Christian, he was expected, and bound to speak the truth, although he knew the consequence would be a cruel death. So when a man is asked if he has money about him, he is expected to speak the truth, and has no right to lie any more than a Christian had a right to lie to save his life. The doctrine that “mendacia officiosa” are only venial sins, rests on the principle that the intention determines the character of the act. The simple Scriptural rule is, that he who does “evil that good may come,” his “damnation is just.”

It is a fact of experience, that, so far as our inner life at least is concerned, exorbitant attention to how to do a thing destroys the ability to do it. An adept in logic may be a very poor reasoner; and a man who spends his life in studying the rules of elocution may be a very indifferent orator. So a man versed in 448all the subtleties of casuistry is apt to lose the clear and simple apprehension of right and wrong. Professor Gury has for the motto of his book on moral theology, the words of St. Gregory: “Ars artium regimen animarum.” Very true, but it is a bad way to lead a man to a given point to put him into a labyrinth. These books of casuistry only serve to mystify the plainest subjects. Indulging in such subtleties can hardly fail to lead to the adoption of false principles. It is very plain that the man who was at once a prince and a bishop, could not well be drunk as prince and sober as bishop; yet, as we have seen, these books teach that a priest may lie as a man, and yet speak truth as a vicar of God. The plain directions of the Word of God and a conscience enlightened by his Spirit, are safer guides in matters of duty than all the books on moral theology the Jesuits evet wrote. This is not saying that morals are not a proper subject of study, or that there is not a call in that field for the exercise of discrimination and distinction. The objection is not to the study of morals, but to inordinate devotion to that department, and to the perplexing and perverting subtleties of casuistry.

Pious Frauds.

Pious fraud was reduced by Romanists to a science and an art. It was called economics, from οἰκονομία, “dispensatio rei familiaris,” the discretionary use of things in a family according to circumstances. The theory is founded on the principle that if the intention be lawful, the act is lawful. Any act, therefore, designed to promote any “pious” end is justifiable “in foro conscientiæ.” This principle was introduced at an early period into the Christian Church. Mosheim attributes to it a heathen origin.402402Ecclesiastical History, I. ii. 2. 3. § 15; edit. New York, 1859, vol. i. p. 130. He says that the Platonists and Pythagoreans taught that it was commendable to lie to promote a good end. The evil, however, had probably an independent origin wherever it appeared. It is plausible enough to rise spontaneously in any mind not under the control of the Word and Spirit of God.

Augustine had to contend against this error in his day. There were certain orthodox Christians who thought it right falsely to assert that they were Priscillianists in order to gain their confidence and thus be able to convict them of heresy. This brought up the question whether it was allowable to commit a fraud for a good end; in other words, whether the intention determined the character of the act. Augustine took the negative of the question, 449and argued that a lie was always a lie, and always wicked that it was not lawful to tell a falsehood for any purpose whatever. “Interest quidem plurimum,” he says, “qua causa, quo fine, qua intentione quid fiat: sed ea quæ constat esse peccata, nullo bonæ causæ obtentu, nullo quasi bono fine, nulla velut bona intentione facienda sunt. . . . . Cum vero jam opera ipsa peccata sunt; sicut furta, stupra, blasphemiæ, vel cætera talia; quis est qui dicat causis bonis esse facienda, ut vel peccata non sint, vel quod est absurdius, justa peccata sint? Quis est qui dicat: ut habeamus quod demus pauperibus, faciamus furta divitibus; aut, testimonia falsa vendamus, maxime si non inde innocentes læduntur, sed nocentes potius damnaturis judicibus eruuntur?”403403Contra Mendacium ad Consentium, 18; Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1837, vol. i. pp. 767, d, 768, a, b. He specially condemns all “pious frauds,” i.e., frauds committed in pretended service of religion.

Notwithstanding the authority of Augustine, the doctrine that it was right to use fraud in efforts to promote the interests of the Church, was openly avowed by some of his contemporaries and many of his immediate successors, and during the Middle Ages was the practical rule of the Romish Church, as it is at the present day. Among the early advocates of this lax principle of morals is found the name even of Jerome. In his epistle to Pammachius, he says, that in teaching, a man is bound to be honest, but in dealing with an adversary, he may do what he pleases; it is right “nunc hæc nunc illa proponere. Argumentari ut libet, aliud loqui, aliud agere, panem, ut dicitur, ostendere, lapidem tenere.404404Epistola, xlviii. [30 seu 50] 13. seu Liber Apologeticus ad Pammachium; Works, edit. Migne, Paris, 1845, vol. i. p. 502. The principle that the intention sanctifles the deed, is clearly asserted by John Cassian, a disciple of Chrysostom. Falsehood, he says, is like poison: taken moderately and in illness, it may be salutary; but if taken inopportunely, it is fatal. “Non enim Deus verborum tantum actuumque nostrorum discussor et judex, sed etiam propositi ac destinationis inspector est. . . . . Ille tamen intimam cordis inspiciens pietatem, non verborum sonum, sed votum dijudicat voluntatis, quia finis, operis et affectus considerandus est perpetrantis.405405Collationes, xvii. 17; Magna Bibliotheca Veterum Patrum, tom. v. par. ii. Cologne, 1618, p. 189, f, g.



The principle having been once admitted that it is right to deceive in order to accomplish a good object, there was no limit set in practice to its application. Hence, —

1. Even from the earliest times genuine works of the apostolic fathers were corrupted by interpolations; and works were issued bearing the names of authors who were dead long before the works were written. Besides the apocryphal books which are now admitted to be spurious, the Letters of Ignatius, a portion of which are generally received as authentic, were so corrupted as to be the source of an extended and permanent evil influence. Of these letters there are, as is well known, three recensions, the larger containing fifteen epistles, the shorter, and the Syrian, founded on a Syriac translation. The larger collection is given up by scholars as spurious; as to the others, many who admit their authenticity, insist that they are more or less corrupted by interpolation.406406   A brief account of this much debated question is given by Uhlhorn in Herzog’s Real-Encyklopädie, art. “Ignatius.”
   Neander says of these assumed letters of Ignatius, “Even the briefer revision, which is the one most entitled to confidence, has been very much interpolated. . . . . A hierarchical purpose is not to be mistaken.” General History of the Christian Religion and Church, by Dr. Augustine Neander. Translated by Joseph Torrey, Professor in the University of Vermont, 2d edit. Boston, 1849, vol. i. p. 661.

The so-called “Apostolical Constitutions” are a collection of rules or canons derived partly from the New Testament, partly from the decisions of early provincial councils, and partly from tradition; all, however, imposed on the Church as of apostolical authority. As the number of councils increased there was a necessity for renewed collections of their decisions. These collections included “decretals” issued by the Bishop of Rome; both classes being included under the name of “canons,” these collections were gradually consolidated into the Canon Law. It was a natural and easy method of imposing on the Church to insert spurious decretals in the collections from time to time, and to found on these forgeries exorbitant pretensions to priestly dignity and power. The most notorious of these impositions is what is known as the Decretals of Isidore, Bishop of Seville, the most distinguished writer of the seventh century. He died A.D. 636. The collection which went under his name did not make its appearance until the ninth century. It contains many genuine decretals and canons, but also litany that are manifest forgeries. The author of the collection and of the spurious documents it 451contains is unknown. Its date is fixed by Gieseler between 829 and 845. These decretals “were soon circulated,” says that historian, “in various collections, appealed to without suspicion in public transactions, and used by the popes, from Nicolaus I., immediately after he had become acquainted with them (864), without any opposition being made to their authenticity, and continued in undiminished reputation, till the Reformation led to the detection of the cheat. On these false decretals were founded the pretensions of the popes to universal sway in the Church; while the pretended ‘donatio Constantini M.,’ a fiction of an earlier time, but soon adopted into them, was the first step from which the papacy endeavoured to elevate itself even above the state.”407407Gieseler, Ecclesiastical History, Per. III. ii. 1. 1. § 20; edit. Edinburgh, 1848, vol. ii. pp. 331-336. The authenticity of these documents was first seriously attacked by the Magdeburgh Centuriators, who were answered by the Jesuit Turrianus. “The question was decided by Dav. Blondelli Pseudoisidorus et Turrianus vapulantes, Genev. 1628. The Ultramontanists, though they admit the deception, deny the revolution of ecclesiastical principles caused by it.”408408Ibid. p. 335, foot-notes. These decretals attribute to the pope absolute supremacy over the Church, over patriarchs, bishops, and priests. To him an appeal lies in all questions of doctrine, and his decisions are final. The gift of Constantine conferred on the pontiff more than imperial dignity and power. It conveyed the sovereignty of the city of Rome, of Italy, and of the western provinces. Among other things it says, “Et sicut nostram terrenam imperialem potentiam, sic ejus (Petri) sacrosanctam Romanam Ecclesiam decrevimus veneranter honorari, et amplius quam nostrum imperium terrenumque thronum, sedem sacratissimam b. Petri gloriose exaltari: tribuentes ei potestatem et gloriæ dignitatem, atque vigorem et honorificentiam imperialem. Unde ut pontificalis apex non vilescat, sed magis quam imperii dignitas, gloria et potentia decoretur, ecce tam palatium nostrum, ut prædictum est, quam Romanam urbem, et omnes Italiæ, seu occidentalium regionum provincias, loca et civitates præfato beatissimo Pontifici nostro Sylvestro, universali papæ, contradimus atque relinquimus: et ab eo et a successoribus ejus per hanc divalem nostram, et pragmaticum constitutum decernimus disponenda, atque juri sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ concedimus permansura.409409Quoted by Gieseler, ut supra, vol. ii. p. 337, from the Decreta Gratiani.


False Miracles.

The second great class of pious frauds by which the Church of Rome has for ages endeavoured to sustain its errors and confirm its power, is that of pretended miracles. On this subject it may be remarked, —

1. That there is nothing in the New Testament inconsistent with the occurrence of miracles in the post-apostolic age of the Church. The Apostles were indeed chosen to be the witnesses of Christ, to bear testimony to the facts of his history and to the doctrines which He taught. And among the signs of an Apostle, or necessary credentials of his commission, was the power to work miracles. (Rom. xv. 18, 19; 2 Cor. xii. 12.) When the Apostles had finished their work, the necessity of miracles, so far as the great end they were intended to accomplish was concerned, ceased. This, however, does not preclude the possibility of their occurrence, on suitable occasions, in after ages. It is a mere question of fact to be decided on historical evidence. In some few cases the nature of the event, its consequences, and the testimony in its support, have constrained many Protestants to admit the probability, if not the certainty of these miraculous interventions.410410Grotius in his annotations on Mark xvi. 17, says: “Cum vero multo etiam seriora secula plena sint testimoniis ejus rei, nescio qua ratione moti quidam id donum ad prima tantum tempora restringant; quibus ut uberiorem fuisse miraculorum copiam, ad jacienda tanti ædificii fundementa contra vim mundi, facile concedo, ita cum illis expirasse hanc Christi promissionem cur credamus non video. Quare si quis nunc etiam gentibus Christi ignaris (illis enim proprie miracula inserviunt 1 Cor. xiv. 22). Christum, ita ut ipse annuntiari voluit, annuntiet, promissionis vim duraturam arbitor. Sunt enim ἀμεταμέλητα τοῦ Θεου δῶρα (sine pœnitentia dona Dei). Sed nos cujus rei culpa est in nostra ignavia aut indifferentia id solemus in Deum rejicere.” Works, edit. London, 1679, tome. II. vol. i. p. 328, b, 18-32. Among the controversial writings which the great questions in debate in the late Vatican Council have called forth, there are two of special interest which have already been translated and circulated in this country. The one is entitled “The Pope and The Council,”411411The Pope and the Council, by Janus. Authorized Translation from the German, Boston, 1870. a series of papers written by German Catholic scholars of distinction. It is a historical argument against Ultramontanism. Among other things it demonstrates that the claims of the Ultramontanists have been sustained by a regular system of forgeries in all ages of the Church.412412See especially chap. III. § 7, pp. 76-122.

The other work is by the late Abbe Gratry,413413Papal Infallibility Untenable. Three Letters by A. Gratry, Priest of the Oratory, and member of the French Academy. Hartford, 1870. one of the most 453distinguished Romish ecclesiastics of France, whose death has just been announced. In these masterly letters the writer establishes two points, as he says truly beyond the possibility of rational denial. The first is, that the popes have erred when speaking “ex cathedra,” and therefore are not infallible; and the second, that the claims of Papal infallibility have been sustained by the most bare-faced and persistent forgeries and frauds. Both of these points are proved specially in the case of Pope Honorius. Yet, sad to say, this eminent man, not long before his death, submitted to the decree of the Vatican Council by which the infallibility of the Pope was made an article of faith. He said he “erased” all he had written aganst that doctrine.414414It is perfectly intelligible that a man who admits the infallibility of general councils, may be able to subject his strongest personal convictions to the judgment of the Church. But not less than three œcumenical councils and twenty Popes had pronounced Honorious a heretic. How could the council of the Vatican reverse those decisions? Besides, Gratry and his Gallican and German coadjutors denied that the late council was either œcumenical or free. Father Hyacinth wrote to Gratry on his recantation, and said to him, “You speak of erasing what you have written, but how can you erase the facts which you have demonstrated, or the convictions you have produced in the minds of the faithful?”

2. During the first hundred years after the death of the Apostles we hear little or nothing of the working of miracles by the early Christians. On this point Bishop Douglass says, “If we except the testimonies of Papias and Irenæus, who speak of raising the dead, . . . . I can find no instances of miracles mentioned by the fathers before the fourth century, as what were performed by Christians in their times, but the cures of diseases, particularly the cures of demoniacs, by exorcising them, which last, indeed, seems to be the favourite standing miracle, and the only one which I find (after having turned over their writings carefully and with a view to this point): they challenged their adversaries to come and see them perform.”415415Criterion, or, the Rules by which the True Miracles recorded in the New Testament are distinguished from the Spurious Miracles of Pagans and Papists. 4th edit. Oxford, 1832, pp. 228-232. The author was Dean of Windsor, Bishop of Carlisle, and afterwards of Salisbury. The fathers of the fourth century freely speak of the age of miracles as past, that such interpositions, being no longer necessary, were no longer to be expected. Thus Chrysostom says: “Ne itaque ex eo, quod nunc signa non fiunt, argumentum ducas tunc etiam non fuisse. Etenim tunc utiliter fiebant, et nunc utiliter non fiunt.416416In Epistolam I. ad Corinthios, Homilia, vi. 2; Works, edit. Montfaucon, Paris, 1837, vol. x. p. 53, a. And Augustine says: “Cur, inquiunt, nunc illa miracula, quæ prædicatis facta esse, non fiunt? Possem quidem dicere, necessaria fuisse priusquam crederet mundus, ad hoc ut crederet mundus.417417De Civitate Dei, XXII. viii. 1; Works, edit. Benedictines, Paris, 1838, vol. vii. p. 1057, d. 454However these declarations may be reconciled with the fact that these fathers, themselves, give accounts of what passed for miracles in their day, they at least show that in their view there was such a difference between the Scriptural and ecclesiastical miracles that they did not belong to the same category. Although these miracles were unfrequent in the early ages of the Church, yet they rapidly increased in number until they became matters of every day’s occurrence.

3. They admit of being classified on different principles. As to their nature, some are grave and important; others are trifling, childish, and even babyish; others are indecorous; and others are irreverent and even blasphemous. Professor Newman, one of the richest prizes gained by the Romanists from the Church of England in this generation, is candid enough to admit the contrast between the Scriptural and what he calls ecclesiastical miracles. Of the former, he says,418418Two Essays on Scripture Miracles and on Ecclesiastical. By John Henry Newman, formerly Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, 2d edit. London, 1870, p. 116. These Essays, it should be stated, were first published before Dr. Newman entered the Church of Rome. The former was written in 1825-26, and the latter in 1842-43. He was reconciled to Rome in 1845. In the second edition of the united essays published in 1870, he endorses them anew with slight qualification. His words are (p. viii.), “These distinct views of miraculous agency, thus contrasted, involve no inconsistency with each other; but it must be owned that, in the essay upon the Scriptural miracles, the author goes beyond both the needs and the claims of his argument, when, in order to show their special dignity and beauty, he depreciates the purpose and value of the miracles of Church history. To meet this undue disparagement in his first essay, of facts which have their definite place in the divine dispensation, he points out in his second the essential resemblance which exists between many of the miracles of Scripture and those of the later times; and it is with the same drift that, in this edition, a few remarks at the foot of the page have been added in brackets.” This qualification was hardly necessary, as the fourth chapter of the second essay contains the most ingenious defence of ecclesiastical miracles anywhere to be found. It is generally understood that Prof. Newman was in heart a Romanist some years before his secession from the Church of England. Of his his famous Tract Number 90 of the Oxford series, is a sufficient proof. “The miracles of Scripture are, as a whole, grave, simple, and majestic: those of ecclesiastical history often partake of what may not unfitly be called a romantic character, and of that wildness and inequality which enters into the notion of romance.” He says,419419Ibid. p. 150. “It is obvious to apply what has been said to the case of the miracles of the Church, as compared with those in Scripture. Scripture is to us a garden of Eden, and its creations are beautiful as well as ‘very good,’ but when we pass from the Apostolic to the following ages, it is as if we left the choicest valleys of the earth, the quietest and most harmonious scenery, and the most cultivated soil, for the luxuriant wildernesses of Africa or Asia, the natural home or kingdom of 455brute nature, uninfluenced by man.” A more felicitous illustration can hardly be imagined. The contrast between the Gospels and the legends of the saints, is that between the divine and the human and even the animal; between Christ (with reverence be it spoken) and St. Anthony. Another principle on which these ecclesiastical miracles may be classified, is the design for which they were wrought or adduced. Some are brought forth as proofs of the sanctity of particular persons, or places, or things; some to sustain particular doctrines, such as purgatory, transubstantiation, the worshipping of the saints and of the Virgin Mary, etc., some for the identification of relics. It is no injustice to the authorities of the Church of Rome, to say, that whatever good ends these miracles may in any case be intended to serve, they have in the aggregate been made subservient to the accumulation of money and to the increase of power. The amount of money drawn from the single doctrine of purgatory and the assumed power of the keys over that imaginary place of torture, is beyond all computation. And the whole fabric of priestly power, the most absolute and the most dreaded ever exercised over men, would fall to the ground if it were not the belief of the people, founded mainly on “lying wonders,” that the priests have power to forgive sin, to save or to destroy souls at will, or at discretion. If this doctrine be false, the whole Romish system is false. Romanists, therefore, have everything at stake on this question. Bishop Jeremy Taylor, writing to a lady “seduced to the Church of Rome,” said long ago, “All the points of difference between us and your Church are such as do evidently serve the ends of covetousness and ambition, of power and riches.”420420First Letter to One Seduced to the Church of Rome; Works, edit. London, 1828, vol. xi. p. 139.

4. A fourth general remark on this subject is, that it is no just matter of reproach to the authorities and people of the Romish Church that they believed in these false miracles. Faith in the frequently recurring interference of supernatural influences in the affairs of men, was for ages universal. Even so late as the seventeenth century Protestants as well as Catholics, of all ranks, believed in ghosts, witches, necromancy, and demonocracy. Cotton Mather’s “Magnalia” is a match for the Legends of the Saints.

5. It is not that Romanists believed in the frequent occurrence of miracles, but that they propagated reports of miracles, knowing them to be false; that this was done for the purposes of deceit; that this is persisted in to the present day; and that the 456honour, truth, integrity, and infallibility of the Church are pledged in support of their actual occurrence. The truth of Christianity depends on the historical truth of the account of the miracles recorded in the New Testament. The truth of Romanism depends on the truth of the miracles to which it appeals. What would become of Protestantism if it depended on the demonology of Luther, or the witch stories of our English forefathers. The Romish Church, in assuming the responsibility for the ecclesiastical miracles, has taken upon itself a burden which would crush the shoulders of Atlas. These “lying wonders” are endorsed, not only by the negative action of the authorities of the Church, by allowing them to be believed and cited in proof of its doctrines and divine mission; not only by the recognized expounders of its faith referring to them and asserting their truth; but also by solemn official action of the highest ecclesiastical dignitaries, including a long succession of popes. As no one could be canonized unless his saintship was sustained by at least four miracles, when any one was proposed for canonization a commission was appointed to ascertain the facts of his life, and especially of the miracles which he wrought. This commission reported to the Pope, who, if satisfied, decreed the enrolment of the candidate in the list of saints. These official documents contain the record of the most trivial, and, on other grounds, most objectionable miracles.421421Accounts of these miracles may be found, not only in the original documents, but also in numerous works, as those of Bishop Stillingfleet and others, written to expose the impostures of the Romish Church. The Rev. John Cumming of London, in his Lectures on Romanism (Boston, 1854), has cited from these official records examples sufficiently numerous to satisfy any ordinary man. For example, it is said of Santa Rosa Maria of Lima, among many others, that the Virgin often appeared to her and talked with her, that the Saviour came to her in the form of a child leaning on his mother’s arm, to collect roses scattered on the ground, and then the Divine infant took one of them and said “Thou art the rose.” (Cumming, p. 629). When her tomb was opened fifteen years after death, her remains “exhaled the odor of roses.” Of St. Philip Neri it is said that he was so agitated by the love of God, that the Lord broke two of his ribs to give freer action to his heart. (p. 634) Of Sister Maria Francisca, it is certified that when placing a holy Bambino (i.e., image of the infant Jesus) into the manger, such a light emanated from the Bambino as to blind her for three days. On another occasion, when dressing the image, she said, “My little child, if you do not stretch out your feet I cannot put on your shoes and stockings,” and the wooden image immediately stretched out its feet. It is also asserted that she obtained from Christ permission to suffer vicariously for a limited time, in the place of some of her friends, the pains of purgatory, and accordingly endured for a month the most intense agonies. It is further said, that she had imparted to her the sufferings of Christ, his bloody sweat, the anguish of the crown of thorns, his scourgings and agonies on the cross, and his wounds visibly impressed upon her. (Cumming, pp. 649-653) Cardinal Wiseman edited a book including the lives of several saints, and among them that of St. Veronica Giuliani, who was canonized so recently as 1839. Of this saint, he says, among many similar things, that God recompensed her readiness to drink of the chalice of suffering, by making her a partaker of the torments of Christ’s passion. Christ accordingly appeared to her and took the crown of thorns and placed it on her head. (Cumming, pp. 665-675). Such are some of the miracles and which Rome rests her claims to be the only true Church and the infallible teacher of man. And to such miracles the Church of Rome has given her sanction, and on the truth of these it must stand or fall.


There are, however, two special and standing miracles to which Romanists are fully committed, and which in the judgment probably of nine tenths of the educated men in Christendom are barefaced impostures. The Church of Rome by its highest dignitaries and representatives asserted and still continues to assert that the house in which the Virgin Mary dwelt in Nazareth was, when that city fell into the hands of the infidels, transported by angels and deposited at Loretto, a village a few miles from Ancona in Italy. The first step in this transportation occurred in 1291 from Nazareth to Dalmatia; the second in 1294 to the neighbourhood of Recanati; and the third in 1295 to its present location. The house is thirty feet long, fifteen wide, and eighteen high, and is built of wood and brick. It is now greatly adorned, having a silver door and a silver grating, and stands in the midst of a large church erected over and around it. Its shrine was enriched with offerings of priceless value, and is regarded as the Mecca of Italy; the number of pilgrims amounting sometimes to two hundred thousand in a single year. The annual income of the house, apart from presents, is stated to be thirty thousand dollars.422422Conversations-Lexicon, 7th edit. Leipzig, 1827, art. “Loretto.” The original house is said to be a fac-simile of hundreds of others in the neighborhood of Ancona. It is obvious that such a frail building could not, without a miracle, have been preserved thirteen hundred years; another miracle would be required to identify it after so long a period; another stupendous miracle to account for its transportation to Dalmatia; and two more nearly as great to explain its reaching its present location. The only conceivable design of all these miracles, must be to sustain the doctrines and authority of the Romish Church, and to pour money into its treasury. Both these objects they have accomplished to a wonderful degree. No man who is not prepared to accept all these miracles without a particle of evidence, can rationally believe in the Church of Rome.

The other standing miracle for which the Romish Church is responsible before the whole world, is the annual liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius at Naples. The tradition concerning him is, that he was thrown by his heathen persecutors into a heated oven, where he remained three days uninjured. He was afterwards exposed to wild beasts, who became as lambs in his 458presence. He was finally beheaded, A.D. 305. A woman is said to have caught and preserved a portion of his blood. This with other of his remains was carried to Naples, being identified as usual by a miracle, as it is said, “Neapolitani beatum Januarium revelatione commoti sustulerunt.” The blood, preserved with great care in the cathedral, is contained in two crystal vials, a larger and smaller one. In its ordinary state it is a hard substance, sometimes represented as filling the vial, and sometimes as appearing in a hard round lump. The blood of other saints is said to liquefy on the anniversaries of their martyrdom, but the blood of Januarius becomes liquid whenever the vial containing it is brought near to the skull of the saint, which is still preserved. It turns readily when good is impending, and refuses to change when evil is at hand. It thus serves the purpose of an oracle. It is annually produced and exhibited to crowds of devotees gathered in the cathedral on the first Sunday of May, and also on the nineteenth day of September and twentieth of December, and at other times on extraordinary emergencies. To this miracle the Church of Rome is fully committed as it is exhibited every year under the eyes of the pope and the highest dignitaries of the Church. There is not a particle of evidence for the facts above stated concerning this saint, which may not be pleaded for any one of the thousands of stories of fairies and witches with which the histories of all nations abound, except the liquefaction of the blood. As to that, however, it is to be said that there is no evidence that the substance contained in the vial is blood; or if blood, that it is human blood; or if human, that it is the blood of Januarius; or if his, that the cause of the liquefaction is bringing the vial into proximity to the saint’s cranium. All that the people are allowed to see, the change of a dark-red solid substance into a fluid, any chemist could effect at five minutes notice. It is true, as Dr. Newman admits, that these miracles do not so much prove the truth of the Church, as the Church proves the truth of the miracles. Then what are they worth?


Relics are the remains of sacred persons and things, which are not only to be cherished as memorials, but to which “cultus” or a certain degree of religious worship is due, and which are imbued with supernatural power. They heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, soundness to the maimed, and even, at times, life to the dead. Of these the Catholic world is 459full.423423The language of the Council of Trent in reference to the honour due to the relics of the saints has already been quoted when treating of the second commandment. Perrone in his Prælectiones Theologicæ, De Cultu Sanctorum, iv. 71, edit. Paris, 1861, vol. ii. p. 112, b, adduces as one of his arguments in favour of the worship of relics the declaration of the Epistle of the Church of Smyrna, that the heathen feared “ne Christiani, relicto Christo, Polycarpum adorare inciperent; omni idcirco qua poterant ratione martyrum corpora, ne a Christianis colerentur, ethnici gladiatorum corporibus commiscebant; in amphitheatris feris, in aquis piscibus ut vorarentur exponebant; aut saltem igne illa cremabant, cinere dispergentes, uti ex martyrum actis constat.” It was “adoration,” “worship,” that was to be rendered to these relics. The distinction between the different kinds of worship, had little effect on the popular mind. Perrone himself teaches that the “material heart of Christ” was to be adored latriæ cultu. De Incarnatione, II. iv. 454; Ibid. p. 81, a. Dr. Newman in his “Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England,” delivered after his reconciliation with the Church of Rome, says, “At Rome there is the True Cross, the Crib of Bethlehem, and the Chair of St. Peter; portions of the Crown of Thorns are kept at Paris; the Holy Coat is shown at Treves; the Winding-sheet at Turin: at Monza the iron Crown is formed out of a nail of the Cross; and another nail is claimed for the Duomo of Milan; and pieces of Our Lady’s habit are to be seen in the Escurial. The Agnus Dei, blest medals, the Scapula, the cord of St. Francis, all are the medium of divine manifestations and graces.”424424Quoted by Dr. Cumming in his Lectures on Romanism, p. 595.

There is here opened an illimitable field for pious fraud. First, in palming upon the credulous people spurious relics, and, secondly in falsely attributing to them supernatural power. It has been proved in many cases that remains passed off as relics of the saints were bones of animals. In other cases it is impossible that all should be genuine, as bodies, or the same parts of bodies, of one and the same man are exhibited in different places. There is, as has often been asserted, enough wood of the true cross, held sacred in different localities, out of which to construct a large building. Writing not long after the alleged discovery of the cross on which the Saviour died, Cyril of Jerusalem says, “Sanctum crucis lignum testatur, quod ad hodiernum usque diem apud nos conspicitur, ac per eos qui fide impellente ex eo frusta decerpunt orbem fere totum hinc jam opplevit.” And again, he speaks of “crucis lignum, quod per particulas ex hoc loco per totum orbem distributum est.425425Catechesis Illuminandorum, x. 19, and xiii. 4; Opera, Venice, 1763, pp. 146, c, and 184, c. St. Paulinas, who is one of the long list of witnesses quoted in defence of the veneration of relics, says “that a portion of the cross kept at Jerusalem gave off fragments of itself without diminishing.” This is the only way in which 460the fact in question can be accounted for. If this solution be not admitted, then it must be acknowledged that, at least, the great majority of the portions of the cross now on exhibition must be spurious. There is no historical evidence of any value that any portion of the true cross has been preserved. Nothing was heard of it until A.D. 327. About that time, according to the legend, the Empress Helena, in searching for the Holy Sepulchre, found at the depth of thirty feet from the surface of the earth, three crosses, assumed to be those mentioned in the Gospels. The true cross was identified, some say, by its inscription; others, by a sick woman being touched by the one and the other without effect, but restored to perfect health the moment the true cross came in contact with her body. Others say that a corpse was restored to life by the touch of the true cross. In reference to this account it may be remarked, (1.) That there is a strong antecedent improbability that the crosses used on Calvary were ever buried. The assumption that it was the custom of the Jews to bury those implements of torture, rests on a very precarious foundation. (2.) The cross was a very slight structure, as it could be borne by one man; and, therefore, if buried superficially, as it must have been at first, it could hardly have continued undecayed three hundred years, especially considering the ploughings and overturnings to which the Holy City was subjected. (3.) The historical evidence in support of this legend is of little account. Cyril of Jerusalem, twenty years after the date assigned to the discovery, does indeed say that the true cross was then in Jerusalem, as Jerome does some sixty years later, but neither of them makes any mention of Helena in connection with the cross or the sepulchre. It may, therefore, be admitted that what passed for the true cross was then in Jerusalem, but the account of its recovery and identification remains without support. (4.) The historian Eusebius, a contemporary and eye-witness, makes no mention of the finding of the cross, an event the belief in which agitated all Christendom, and led to the immense aggrandizement of the bishopric of Jerusalem. It is inconceivable that such an event, if within his knowledge, should have been passed over in silence by such a historian, who had so much at heart to enchance the glory of his patron the Emperor. (5.) Calvary and the sepulchre we know were without the city. The place where the cross is said to have been found is in the centre of the modern city. Whether the city has so changed its limits as to bring the place of the crucifixion and burial of Christ within its boundaries, is a much debated question. Dr. 461Robinson, one of the most reliable of explorers, says, “The hypothesis which makes the second wall so run as to exclude the alleged site of the Holy Sepulchre, is on topographical grounds untenable and impossible.”426426Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai, and Arabia Petræa. A Journal of Travels in the year 1838, by E. Robinson and E. Smith. Drawn up from the Original Diaries, etc. By Edward Robinson, Professor of Biblical Literature in the Union Theological Seminary, New York. Boston, 1841, vol. ii. p. 69. That is, assuming the truth of the statement of the Evangelists that Christ was crucified without the walls, it is topographically impossible that the alleged site of the Holy Sepulchre should be the true one. And thus the whole foundation of the legend of finding the cross on that spot falls to the ground. Dr. Robinson winds up his long discussion of this question in the following words: “Thus in every view which I have been able to take of the question, both topographical and historical, whether on the spot or in the closet, and in spite of all my previous prepossessions, I am led irresistibly to the conclusion, that the Golgotha and the tomb now shown in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, are not upon the real places of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. The alleged discovery of them by the aged and credulous Helena, like her discovery of the cross, may not improbably have been the work of pious fraud. It would perhaps not be doing injustice to the Bishop Macarius and his clergy, if we regard the whole as a well laid and successful plan for restoring to Jerusalem its former consideration, and elevating his see to a higher degree of influence and dignity.”427427Ibid. p. 80.

Dr. Newman says we must either admit the discovery of the cross, or believe the Church of Jerusalem guilty of imposture.428428Essays on Miracles, p. 297. It is hard to decide how much is due in this matter to fraud, and how much to superstitious credulity. That both prevailed for ages in the Church is an undoubted historical fact. Are we to believe all that Gregory of Nyssa said of Gregory of Neo-Cæsarea, or what the fathers relate of St. Anthony; are we to admit all the legends of the saints, to avoid charging credulity or fraud against good men? It is lamentable that good men advocated the principle that it is right to deceive for a good end. It is undeniable that the doctrine of pious frauds has been avowed and acted upon in the Church of Rome ever since it began to aspire to ecclesiastical supremacy. Was not the pretended donation of Italy by Constantine to the pope a fraud? Are not the Isidorian Decretals a fraud? Are not the miracles wrought in proof of the delivery of souls from purgatory, frauds? Is not the alleged house of the 462Virgin Mary at Loretto a fraud? Is not the foot-print (ex pede Hercules) on a marble slab in the Cathedral of Rouen, a fraud? Is not the feather from the wing of the Archangel Gabriel preserved in one of the Cathedrals of Spain, a fraud? The whole Catholic world is full of frauds of this kind; and the only possible ground for Romanists to take is, that it is right to deceive the people for their good. “Populus vult decipi,” is the excuse a Romish priest once made to Coleridge in reference to this matter.

Secondly, pious frauds are practised, not only in the exhibition of false relics, but also in falsely attributing to them supernatural power. Dr. Newman says: “The store of relics is inexhaustible; they are multiplied through all lands, and each particle of each has in it at least a dormant, perhaps an energetic virtue of supernatural operation.”429429Lectures on the Position of Catholics in England, p. 284. Bellarmin of course teaches the same430430See above pp. 300, 301. dootrine. Cyril of Jerusalem says, “Et Elisæum qui semel et iterum suscitavit, dum viveret, et post mortem: vivus resurrectionem per suam ipsius animam operatus est, ut autem non animæ solum justorum honorarentur, sed crederetur etiam in justorum corporibus jacere vim, projectus in monumentum Elisæi mortuus prophetæ corpus attingens, vitam concepit, 4 Kin. iv. 13, ut ostenderetur, absente etiam anima inesse vim corpori sanctorum propter animam justam, quæ in eo habitaverat.431431Catechesis Illuminandorum, xviii. 16; Opera, Venice, 1763, p. 293, a, b. Dr. Newman says that miracles wrought by relics are of daily occurrence in all parts of the world. It is not that people are favourably affected by them through the imagination or feelings, but that the relics themselves are imbued with supernatural power. Thus Dr. Newman, one of the most cultivated men of the nineteenth century, has come round to the pure, simple, undiluted fetichism of Africa.

Our Lord warned his disciples against being deceived by lying wonders. The Bible (Deut. xiii. 1-3) teaches that any sign or wonder given or wrought in support of any doctrine contrary to the Word of God, is, without further examination, to be pronounced false. If, therefore, such doctrines as the supremacy of the pope; the power of priests to forgive sins; the absolute necessity of the sacraments as the only channels of communicating the merits and grace of Christ; the necessity of auricular confession; purgatory; the adoration of the Virgin and of the consecrated wafer: and the worship of saints and angels, are contrary to the 463Holy Scriptures, then to a certainty all the pretended miracles wrought in their support are “lying wonders;” and those who promulgate and sustain them are guilty of pious fraud. If, therefore, as Newman says, The Catholic Church, from east to west, from north to south, is, according to our conceptions, hung with miracles: so much the worse. It is hung all over with the symbols or ensigns of apostasy.

« Prev 13. The Ninth Commandment. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection