A few years ago I received a letter from a gentleman living near London, expressing solicitude for my spiritual welfare, and an earnest desire to see me within the fold of the Catholic Church.
Though the writer was a stranger to me, the tone in which he wrote was such that I was careful to reply in terms befitting the courtesy and grace which marked his letter. My acknowledgment drew from him a rejoinder of several sheets, in which, still more urgently, he pressed his appeal. In answer to this I wrote in terms which I supposed would be deemed final, and enclosed a copy of one of my books (The Gospel and its Ministry), to which I referred as proof that I already possessed in Christ every blessing which he imagined the Church could give; and moreover, that I was, from his point of view, a hopeless heretic. My surprise therefore was great at receiving again a prompt reply at considerable length, assuring me of the pleasure with which he had read my book, and of the increasing desire be felt that I should be in my right place, namely, within "the Church."
My kind and courteous, though unknown, friend, never failed promptly to renew his appeals to me, whenever, by replying to his letters (which I did generally after long intervals), I afforded him the opportunity. I fear my Protestant zeal led me to say many things that were galling and some that were unjust ; but nothing from my pen availed to betray my correspondent into an expression of anger or even of disappointment.
Towards the close of our correspondence he sent me a copy of a Catholic treatise, to show me how grievously I misjudged his Church. His letter, enclosing the book, gave me the first definite hint of what I naturally guessed, that his letters to me were part of a systematic effort to lead selected Protestants to make their submission to Rome. This fact renders the correspondence worthy of mention in these pages. Nor is there any breach of confidence in my giving extracts from his letters, for I exclude everything that could possibly betray his identity. Such are the methods by which the perverts to Rome are won. Here are the arguments which influence them.
In returning the book I wrote refusing to listen to the Church and appealing to Holy Scripture.
The following is an extract from his reply :—
You refuse to listen to the Church, and you turn with confidence to a Book—a Book which you have received from the Church, and apart from which you cannot understand. Christ referred you to no book. He told you to hear the Church, and no one for 1600 years after His ascension ever thought that faith came by reading a book or a collection of books, but by humbly hearing the voice of the Divine Teacher. I know the Book is the written Word of God, and I value it and reverence it as such; but the written word and the spoken word are to me one and the same Word. God does not speak one thing, and cause men to write as His Word another thing. God’s Word is one, spoken and written; and He cannot contradict Himself. What the Church teaches is Divine; she is God’s voice speaking to the unbelieving world; qui vos audit me audit. What has been preserved to us of the written Word confirms the teaching of the Church. The Church received her teaching, not from the Bible, but from Christ. She taught before a word of the New Testament was ever written, she could have gone on teaching for ever if it had never been written, or if it had perished. The living Word of God can never perish, the Church’s voice is eternal and it is world-wide.
To this letter I wrote a reply at once, but my letter lay unposted for more than six months. I then sent it with an explanatory note, again expressing my appreciation of his kindness and zeal, and making one more appeal to him. The following is copied from the enclosure:
"You refuse my appeal to the written Word of God, and point me to "the Church." But when I ask, "Why should I trust ‘the Church’?" you refer me to the written Word of God! It amazes me that an intelligent man like yourself cannot see the inconsistency of such a position. Either "the Church" can justify its pretensions by an appeal to Scripture, or it cannot. If it cannot there is an end of the matter. If it can, then let us turn to Scripture and bow to its decision. The passage you have quoted again and again (Luke x. i6) consists of words spoken by the Lord to a company of Jews who were sent out as Jews to preach the kingdom to Jews, in a dispensation before the Church was constituted!
I accept your clearly implied, but courteously veiled, taunt that I am setting up my judgment against that of Christendom. And I am not afraid of this. Even if I stood alone I should not swerve. But behind me are the apostles and prophets and the million martyrs who have dared to stand for God and His Word against an apostate Christendom, and have sealed their testimony with their blood. And speaking of martyrs, may I ask in the name of common fairness and common sense, how is it that if your Church believes, as you say, that God alone, and His grace alone, can produce the change of mind and heart which is called conversion, that same Church has tortured and murdered the unnumbered victims of her persecutions -for not getting "converted" ? Do you not know that if my lot had been cast in darker days, your Church would have burned me at the stake, or torn me to pieces on the rack? You seem to me to shut your eyes both to history and Scripture, and blindly to accept a theory which Scripture knows nothing of and history refutes. Have you not read such passages as the close of Matt. xxiii.? If the Church of the last dispensation merited such scathing words, may not the Church of this dispensation be equally apostate ?- Have you never read 2 Tim.? And pray look at the close of chap. iii. In the midst of error and apostasy, even then leavening the whole lump, "the Holy Scriptures" are declared to be the true safeguard and guide."
This brought me a reply, from which I quote the following:
"I am much obliged to you for your letter of yesterday’s date, enclosing your reply written last September. My correspondence is rather voluminous, and I regret to say that I forget what I then said.
I am always very grateful to any one who wishes and tries to do me what he conscientiously believes is good, however misled and mistaken I may myself find him to be. It is therefore no mere form when I cordially thank you for your kind wishes and kind expressions. I value both, but I believe your religeous opinions to be in many important matters entirely erroneous arid, indeed pernicious and contrary to revealed truth and to the revealed will of God. Therefore it would be the greatest calamity to me if I were able and perfectly impossible to adopt such opinions in lieu of the one eternal truth revealed by God, and taught by the Divine Teacher sent by God, i.e., His Church. If I lost confidence in the Divine Teacher, I should at once lose confidence in the Deity whose mouthpiece she is. If the Catholic Church is not true, not Divine, therefore fallible, "apostate," &c., &c. (as her enemies suppose), then to me Christianity is an illusion a mythology, a falsehood, a merely human thing on a level with Buddhism, Islamism, &c., &c., in many respects superior to them, doubtless, but no more Divine than they. I see no alternative between Catholicism and Agnosticism. I accepted the former in exchange for the latter, and I daily see more and more its holiness, beauty, perfection, divinity, truth. You are surprised at this. No wonder. You see the painted window on the outside, I see it from within—that is the difference. . . . You trust the New Testament which came after the Church and which she has declared to be the written word. I require no Bible to convince me of the truth and divinity of the Holy Church of God. I value the Bible because the Church tells me it is the written word. . . . -
You ask me how it is that the Church "has tortured and murdered the unnumbered victims of her persecutions for not getting converted." The answer is most simple. The Church has never "tortured or murdered" any one whatever! Did not Fénélon say, what all her best divines approve: "By force hypocrites and not converts are made." You read "history" written by bigots, who distort and pervert the truth. The cruelties inflicted by kings and statesmen for State reasons cannot with justice be referred to the Church. . . . The Church is not the author of those uncivilised methods, and they form no part of her teaching; - The Church and Christ are one. Her voice is His voice and so long as we hear that, and obey, we are doing God’s will. That is our position. Conversion is the work of God alone—no force, argument, or persuasion of man’s invention can accomplish it.
Place yourself on your knees before God and ask light and grace from Him, tell Him you will sacrifice all things for His sake; that you are ready to do His will and to obey; and you will rise up, if He will, as new a creature as Saul of Tarsus after he had heard the voice."
His last letter remains unanswered ; for I am utterly at a loss to know what answer is possible to one who thus ignores or distorts both history and Scripture, and honestly and earnestly believes in what he calls "the Church." Here, I repeat, are the arguments by which the perverts to Rome are being won. Here, in its most advanced development, is the pestilently evil and profane view of "the Church" which is slowly but surely undermining Christianity in the Church of England at this moment.