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being frozen he does so on authority: that is to say, he accepts the word of a teacher.
As the Incarnation is a fact of the past, it cannot be believed by us, except on authority. If we believe it, it is on the authority of some teachers, or body of teachers.
If the Incarnation be necessary to all men, that body of teachers must be perpetual. Therefore, from the time of Christ to the consummation of all things there must be a hierarchy authoritatively teaching the dogmas of Christianity.
Autotheism attempts to do without the priest. The personal autocrat who affirms the existence of God identifies himself with God. There is no protection for the beliefs of others. To acknowledge only one's own belief, and to repudiate the beliefs of others, is to make one's self Absolute; being absolute, one has no need of faith, religion, and sacerdotal institution. If religion be of the individual alone, the priesthood is not necessary; but if religion belong to many, it is necessary to preserve the community from breaking up into a multitude of autotheists.
Humanity has always required the priest. The soldier representing defence, the magistrate representing order, and the priest representing the link with the Absolute, are three institutions which form themselves spontaneously in society. If the universality of these three institutions does not convince men of their necessity, their spontaneity demonstrates it. They may be disguised, but they cannot be annihilated.
Not to create an army is not to destroy the soldier. The soldier is fundamental; one may change the mode of institution, but not the institution.
The magistrate and the priest are found at the origin of societies. If faith in God be essential and true, it is
a social question, and if a social question it must have its representation.
Man can no more be robbed of the representation of his faith than he can be of the representation of justice and of defence. The Emperor of China cut off the heads of all the learned men in the Celestial Empire, and with the disappearance of the representatives of science, science disappeared. Destroy the priesthood, and the tradition of the Incarnation dies out. Societies are the successive and permanent representation of man and of God. In that they represent man, they necessarily represent God. Man feeling that he is not the first cause, and that God is the principle of all human action, he represents himself by the soldier and the magistrate, and he represents God by the priest.
If the priesthood be abolished, the principle which is God is abolished also, for He ceases to be witnessed to. The priest will always reappear under one form or another, wherever there is any belief in God; either as a visionary, or a sorcerer, or a spiritualist. Man must believe, and rather than not believe, he will believe in an absurdity.
The three social institutions of soldier, magistrate, and priest, have their dangers as well as their utility. Let the utility be preserved and the danger be suppressed.
The functions of soldier and magistrate are but the same function divided, for if the magistrate has no force, he is nothing. So also, if the soldier has not justice, he is only blind force. These two functions united constitute temporal authority.
If the temporal authority be not determined, and the magistrate and soldier become priest, the empire is changed into a tyranny, and we have a governmental autocracy of the modern type trampling on religious rights.
If the functions of the priest be not determined, and he becomes soldier and magistrate, the empire is transformed into a tyranny, and we have a theocracy.
Thus, soldier and magistrate on one side, and priest on the other, are the representatives of the liberty of peoples, subject to the condition that there be no encroachment by either on the functions of the other, that there be no confusion of powers, and that each exercises his office with recognition of the Absolute.
As Christ is God as well as Man (by hypothesis), His word is authoritative and infallible; and His authority is moral only. As the Church is the social aspect of Christ (as has been demonstrated), it must also be authoritative and infallible, and her authority must be moral only.
But how is she to speak authoritatively, and how is she to declare the truth infallibly?
The Church being Christ, authority is not here or there, nor is infallibility here or there, but authority resides in the whole body, and infallibility resides in the whole body. Authority and infallibility are not derived from an order of the Church, nor from one member of the Church, but from the centre of the complete society.
If authority and infallibility had their seat in one member, a pope, the Church would not be Catholic; for the centre of truth and authority would be displaced, it would be thrown to a point in the circumference, which is impossible without constituting the Pope God.
If Christ be the centre from whom all authority and all truth radiate, authority and truth will be diffused throughout the whole circle of the Church, which is His circumference.
But as a society can only exist by organization, authority and infallibility must have its representatives. The ecclesiastical body are the representatives of authority and infallibility.
They represent authority; but that authority can only be moral “He spake as one having authority, and not as the scribes," was said of Jesus; and so it must be with the priest, His representative.
Authority will be of two sorts, direct and indirect. Direct authority will come immediately from God, indirect authority will come mediately from God through the body of the faithful.
When a priest or bishop exercises authority, he exercises direct authority, but inasmuch as his authority is circumscribed within certain limits, as of his diocese or parish, he exercises it under the correction of the body. Thus, his authority is of God, but his jurisdiction is of man. The faculty is divine, but the exercise of the faculty is humanly regulated.
That human regulation is divine also, but mediately so.
We see that it is analogous in the constitution of the State. Every man has a right to live and acquire property, but society imposes restrictions, necessary restrictions, without which society could not exist. The power to restrict is in this case mediately divine.
Thus, in the Church, the authority to represent Christ must devolve directly from Christ, but the organization of that authority must derive from the society.
Destroy the idea of limitation of authority—of jurisdiction conferred by the society, and you destroy the idea of the Church as a human society.
Destroy the idea of the immediate devolution of authority, and you destroy the idea of the Church as a divine society.
If the Church be not a human and at the same time a divine society, it is not an aspect of Christ, Who is both man and God; and if Christ be not a community as well as a personality, He is not the ideal of man, social as well as individual; and if He be not the ideal, He is not the God-man; that is, He is not perfect in both natures.
The idea of ecclesiastical authority is one from which so many shrink, because it has been frightfully abused through its union with effective authority, that it is necessary for us to see clearly of what nature it is and what are its limits.
There is no reason whatever why it should be dreaded any more than scientific authority. Scientific authority is the authority to declare the truth in matters of scientific research, and this devolves immediately from God. Every man who establishes an absolute truth in the domain of his investigation, Sir Isaac Newton when he declared the dogma of gravitation; Kepler when he declared the true law of planetary motions; Halley when he asserted the revolution of the sun round its own axis; Römer when he laid down the rapidity of the transmission of light, spoke with direct divine authority; that is, they announced the truth discovered by observation and reason.
But no scientific man who speaks out of his domain speaks with authority; a botanist cannot dogmatize in acoustics, nor can an astronomer declare truth in anatomy.
So in spiritual matters, the Church has authority to speak dogmatically, but she has no authority to declare the truth in any other sphere, scientific, metaphysical, or political.
Again, her authority is limited to the declaration of the truth, she may not oppose one truth to another truth, but her office is to declare the whole body of truth. Her authoritative creed is the encyclopædia of the belief of all her members, of all Christians, of all humanity indeed, past present and to come, in matters spiritual.