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ST. AUGUSTIN, in his book concerning the instruction of persons ignorant of the Christian doctrine, after giving many rules for the guidance of the teacher, adds, 66 but if the catechumen be slow of understanding, and have neither hearing nor heart for the sweetness of truth, he must be borne with tenderly, and, after a short and cursory statement of other points, those things which are chiefly necessary are to be inculcated with much of awe, such as the Unity of the Catholic Church, the nature of temptation, and of the Christian life by reason of the judgment to come.”
It will sound strange to modern ears to hear the Unity of the Church thus numbered among the first principles of the
'S. Aug. de Catechiz. Rudibus. c. xiii.
doctrine of Christ; and by this we may measure how remote are our habits of thought from the tone of Catholic belief. It is to be noted, moreover, that St. Augustin does not treat the doctrine of unity as a first principle only, but as an elementary or axiomatic truth among the first principles of faith. It is to be taught to all catechumens, even to the least intelligent of them. It is, in fact, an object of faith, and a rule of life, without which no .man can become a Catholic Christian. Whatsoever any man may safely either not know at all, or know but in: part; this at least he must know thoroughly, and believe without a doubt.
The reasons of this necessity are many and obvious; and it will not be amiss to touch on one or two, that we may form some juster estimate of the great importance of the subject on which we are about to enter.
1. First, then, the doctrine of the Unity of the Church is most necessary to be known and believed, as an object of faith, by all Christians, because it is in the One Church alone that there is a revealed way of salvation in the Name of Christ. It is not requisite, in this place, to do more than affirm this mysterious doctrine. Its meaning, limits, and application we shall consider hereafter. It is enough only to refer to it; for all Christians agree in believing that there is such a mystery in the Gospel: they differ only in expounding the nature and fixing the limits of the one Church in which
alone salvation is revealed to man. Whatsoever, then, be the doctrine of salvation in the Church only, it is plainly so related to the doctrine of the Unity or Oneness of the Church itself, as to render a right understanding of the nature of the Church, i. e. what, and where it is, highly necessary to all men who are seeking salvation through Jesus Christ. For if they know not what nor where the Church is, how shall they partake of the salvation which is enshrined in it? And if they know not the nature and limits of the Church, how, even after finding it, shall they be assured that they still abide in the way of life? And this brings us to another reason.
2. Secondly, the Unity of the Church is most necessary to be known and acted on as a rule of life by all Christians, because it is a principle of moral obligation. In the first place, it is the correlative of schism, and a safeguard against it. By a right knowledge of unity Catholic Christians know also the nature and forms of schism. It is evident that without this knowledge they may, and we daily see that they do, countenance, partake in, and even themselves originate, acts which are materially schismatical,--such, for instance, as aiding in the propagation of sectarian bodies, being present at acts of worship, or teaching, without the pale of the Church, and the like. It matters not, in this view of the case, what be the true doctrine of unity and of schism : because that there are such realities in
the Christian scheme, and that unity is a duty and schism a sin, all Christians agree in believing. It is as necessary, therefore, to know their true nature and definition, as it is to know the limits of truth and falsehood, and the houndary-lines of good and evil. It is, in fact, a matter of revealed obligation, and a particular form of Christian ethics.
3. Again, a right knowledge of the nature of Unity is necessary, not only as a safeguard against schism, but as a guide in the whole complicated texture of a Christian man's life. It enters into every function and act of the Church around him: it is in her teaching, her worship, her sacraments, her ceremonies, her discipline, her penitential order, her censures, her absolutions: it runs through his private life, in all acts of domestic religion, in all the conduct, and temper, and converse of a Catholic Christian: it besets him behind and before, and lays its hand upon him in all his relations to his brethren, to his pastor, to his Lord : it is a governing rule of his moral choice, teaching him what to do and what to forbear, what to testify and what to hold in silence: it is the outward index, and the unerring means of “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and thereby of his perfection in the likeness of Christ.
Now these are some among many reasons which might be brought to shew the necessity of delivering to all catechumens the doctrine of Catholic Unity. There are also two remarks I would make on the
present condition of the Church of Christ, which will the more strongly impress on us the duty of faithfully instructing our people in this great rule of life.
And first it must be remembered that this doctrine, which, in the time of St. Augustin, was definite and undoubted, is now perplexed and gainsaid. In his day the nature of unity was admitted : the only dispute, as with the Donatists, turned on the question, which of two contending bodies was indeed the one true Church. How various soever were the sects by which the Church was then beset, she had yet within a clear and sustained consciousness of her own unity, of which consciousness she carefully made all her members to partake. They carried with them, as it were, a talisman which kept them from wandering into the conventicles of schism. Now we, in these latter times, are beset by no fewer schisms than they were of old. The state of the Western Church for the last three hundred years, our familiar intercourse with Christians in a state of open schism, the visible moral excellence of many born and reared in separation, the deadening effect of political combination, the wayward partizanship of men in the communion of the Church, and then again, together with all these, a habit of indifference, laxity, and a spurious charity, which, like a hidden stream, undermines the steadfastness of principle,-all these have so lowered the standard of teaching and thought