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A SERIES OF LETTERS, 8c.
Bath, Nov. 1, 1813. MY DEAR FRIEND,
THE questions, which have been proposed to you by Mr. *
*, and which you have submitted to my consideration, I have endeavoured to read with every possible degree of attention. Before I enter, however, into any observations, on subjects of so much interest and importance, I think, it will not be improper to remark, that the demand of any man on another, to produce reasons, in support of opinions, which for centuries, have been in possession of the respect and veneration of every
christian uation in the world, and from which he has chosen hiinseif to dissent, is a demand inconsistent equally with reason and with justice. With equal propriety, and with equal reason, and with equal justice, might any stranger demand of Mr. * * *
to produce, and to submit to his inspection, the titles of those estates which he possesses, and which have been regularly transmitted to him, through a long and unbroken line of respectable ancestors. If this Gentleman conceive that the religion of the Catho. lic is not the religion of Christ, nor the faith of his Apostles, it is for him to prove that his own is that religion and that faith ;-it is for him to be able to trace its regular progress, through every successive generation, from the establishment of Christianity down to this late period of the world; -it is for him to shew cause, why he lias disrsenied from the established religion of Europe, and not to demand from a Catholic, reasons, why he still adheres to that system.
If, in the consideration of the various sobjects, which arise out of this Gentleman's questions, I should be found to engage much, and long, your attention, you will be good enough, I am sure, to believe, that the circumstance will be connected with no cause, but that of necessity. It is always a much shorter and a much easier task to perplex with a multitude of questions, than to give to those questions satisfactory answers; and a much narrower compass is ever sufficient for one purpose, than is indispensably requisite for the other. That your attention, however, may be as little and as shortly fatigued as the nature of subjects, so very uninviting, can be found to permit, I will allot a separate letter to the consideration of each one of those subjects.
Bath, Nov. 2, 1813,
MY DEAR FRIEND,
Is the Pope himself infallible, or is the Pope in a
general Council infallible? If the Pope is infallible; is he so with respect to matters of fact, as well as matters of doctrine ?
A CHARACTER. of infallibility the Catholic is taught to ascribe to the “ doctrinal and the moral decrees” of a General Council, acting in conjunction with the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff. By some individuals, indeed, of the Catholic communion, an opinion is entertained, which equally attributes this character of infal. libility to the solemn decisions of the Sovereign Pontiff himself, on doctrinal points: But this opinion is not any article of Catholic faith, nor is it thus considered even by those individuals them. selves. According to the established doctrines of the Catholic Church, this privilege is bestowed by the wise dispensations of Providence, neither upon the person of the Pope, nor upon the Body of the Bishops considered in separation from each other, but
upon them both, united and acting in concert. If you wish to acquire a clear, and a perfect knowledge of the nature of your religious belief,
you will be careful to draw a line of distinction betwixt those subjects, which are numbered amongst the established articles of your faith, and those, which possess nothing but the characters of individual and undetermined opinion. On the former, perfect unanimity, and silent submission, are required, as terms of communion: and on the latter, entire and unrestrained liberty of discussion and of sentiment, is permitted by the authority of the Catholic Church. This distinction is of the uțniost importance, and I am anxious to impress it deeply on your mind, because it is one, which is often forgotten by the prejudice, or by the ignorance of a protestant, and a system of disunion is, in consequence, imagined to exist, where, it is certain, one of perfect union is invariably found to prevail.
According to the doctrines of the Catholic Church, nothing is imposed as an article of faith, but the belief of such points, as are founded on Divine Revelation, and such as have moreover, been either “universally and always” believed to possess that character, or have been declared to possess it, by the infallible authority of the Catholic Church. No opinion, which does not partake of one or other of these two last mentioned qualities, is a necessary object of faith; and on such subjects the only condition, which is required, as a term of communion, is a disposition of general