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These are the essential principles of our holy religion, and all who cordially receive and observe them may be considered as resting upon the Rock of the divine salvation.
While we take this general survey of the Christian world, and find our high obligations of gratitude to God, it is not to be forgotten that it is divided into a number of different classes, alienated, to a considerable degree, from each other, not less from a want of intercourse and correct information, than from real differences in sentiment and practice. A just view of these is necessary to a correct knowledge of the various religions of the world, and may have a tendency to promote that charity which is the bond of perfectness. In an attempt to present such a view to our readers, the Catholic Church, on account of its antiqiuty, its numbers, and various other considerations, will deserve the first attention. The Greek Church, indeed, claims a priority in the time of its existence, yet, for the reasons mentioned, and the deeper interest felt by Americans in the Catho-. lic Church, we conclude to give that the first place in the following work.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.
CATHOLIC, denotes any thing that is universal or general. The rise of heresies induced the primitive Christian church to assume the appellation of Catholic, being a characteristic term to distinguish itself from all sects, who, though they had party pames, sometimes sheltered themselves under the common name of Christians. The Romish church now distinguishes itself by the term Catholic, in opposition to all who have separated from her communion, and whom she considers as heretics and schismatics.
This denomination of Christians has existed under one form or other, from a very early period of the Christian church. They tell us, that they are as old as Christianity ; that their first bishop was St. Peter, who, they add, was first bishop of Rome ; and they assume to trace their several bishops in direct succession from the apostles down to the present time.
Their first bishop belonging to what they call the see of - Rome, they, after the lapse of some time, adopted the adjunct Roman to their other appellation of Catholic or Universal. But since the reformation in the 16th century, this sect has been designated by various names by their enemies : Papists, Romanists, &c. These being considered terms of reproach by these Christians, we shall carefully avoid applying them ; préferring the use of that appellation which cannot possibly give offence ; and by which they are, in fact, now recognized in modern statute-books.
Speaking of their church generally, the Roman Catholics describe it as one, holy, Catholic and apostolic ;--First, because its doctrines and worship are the same all over the world ; Secondly, because all its doetrines, rites, and observances tend to holiness ; but more especially, as the church is infallible, and cannot fall into error of any kind, being kept and upheld by the power of Jesus Christ, who presides over the whole community of the faithful*; invisibly, by his grace and special providence ; and visibly, by his successors, the Bishops or Popes of Rome, who are Christ's vicars on earth, the descendants of St. Peter, and the successors of the apostles ; Thridly, this church is Catholic, because of its universality at one time, though now somewhat distracted by the great Protestant schism
of latter days, and the secession of the Greek Church in former times ; Fourthly, because the bishops and pastors of this church are all descended from the apostles; the line of succession never having been broken in a single instance.
It is proper to remark here, that the Roman Catholics do not hold an opinion that the Pope himself is infallible, as many charge them ; they only say that the Pope and the rest of the bishops in a general council, assembled to settle points of doctrine, or essential branches of church discipline, have always been preserved from error; and this they defend by the text, that is the church is the pillar and ground of the truth ;” and that when it seemeth right to them and to the Holy Ghost-so to assemble, then Christ is so truly in the midst of them that they cannot, as a whole church, fall into error.
But they admit that the Pope, individually, as well as aný other man, may fall into gross errors and very grievous sins ; they admit very great latitude as to matters of mere opinion; carefully distinguishing between articles of faith or belief, and minor subjects of opinion, or convenience.
They say that as theirs is the only true church, and as there can be no salvation out of the true church, so no one can be saved who obstinately withdraws from, or does not unite himself to their church ; but they make a distinction between wilful disobedience to the church's authority, and inyincible ignorance of the right way.
As a body, however, they tolerate no religion at variance with their own,--nor admit the possibility of the salvation of obstinate and wilful heretics ; because the holy Roman Catholic Church being the only true church, it is the duty and the interest of all men to become obedient to her laws and teachings.
Hence, it is manisest, that the Roman Catholics reject the Protestant doctrine of "the right of private judgment in matters of religion," teaching that all spiritual knowledge and all ecclesiastica! authority, emanate to the faithful, first from Christ, and secondly, from the church, whose head and members may as individuals, err, but as a whole, cannot.
The Pope of Rome, though they do not admit his infallibility, is acknowledged as first or supreme in the church, as well in matters of faith as in those of discipline ; but we shall have more to say concerning the Pope, when we come to treat of Ceremonies and Rites.
The RELIGION of the Roman Catholics ought always, in strictness to be considered apart from its professors, whether kings, popes, or inferior bishops ; and its tenets, and its forins, should be treated of separately. To the acknowledged creeds, catechisms, and other formularies of the Catholic Church, we should resort for a faithful description of what Roman Catholics do really hold as doctrines essential to salvation ; and as such, held by the faithful in all times, places, and countries. Though the Catholic forms, in some points, may vary in number and splendour, the Catholic doctrines cannot ;--though opinions may differ, and change with circumstances, articles of faith remain the same. Without a due and constant consideration of these facts, no Protestant can come to a right understanding respecting the essential faith and worship of the Roman Catholics. It has been owing to a want of this discrimination that so many absurd, and so many even wicked tenets have been palmed upon our brethren of the Catholic Church ; that which they deny, we have insisted they religiously hold :that which the best informed amongst them utterly abhor, ire have held up to the detestation of mankind, as the guide of their faith and the rule of their actions. This is not fair :-it is not doing to others as we would have others do unto us : a different spirit and conduct shall be observed in this sketch, written for instruction ; and not to serve party objects and party ends.
The various misrepresentations of the Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, which had gone forth into the world about the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, at length induced the Church of Rome to call a general council, which assembled at the city of Trent ; at this celebrated council, the doctrines of the Reformation, at least those that were deemed new doctrines or opinions, and such as were at variance with the church's supreme authority in all matters relating to faith and practice, were denied and rejected, whilst all the doctrines peculiar to the ancient church were solemnly confirmed.
It is not needful to go into a history of this great council. Dr. Jurieu, and Father Paul, have both given very minute details of the proceedings that then took place : the decrees of this council, with the creed of Pope Pius IV. may very well be said to contain every thing necessary to be known in order to form a correct judgment of the doctrines of the Roman Catholics of the present and all former times.
The council of Trent defines the church to be one, visible, holy, catholic, and apostolic community, established by Almighty God, on a solid basis, who has bestowed upon it the power of opening the gates of heaven to all true believers, and shutting them to all heretics and infidels. It likewise has the power of pardoning sin, and excommunicating all such as are disobedient. :
This church is both triumphant and militant: the former is the illustrious society of those blessed spirits and saints, who, having triumphed over the world, the flesh, and the devil, enjoy everlasting happiness, peace, and security : the latter is the congregation of all true believers upon earth, who are constantly obliged, during their whole lives, to resist the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Jesus Christ is the immediate governor of that part of the church which is triumphant in the heavens ; but, as the church militant required a visible head or director, Jesus Christ has substituted one in his stead, who is accounted by all true Catholics, as the chief, if not the supreme, head and director on
THE Religious World is divided into four grand Systems, viz. Christianity-Judaism-Mahometanism*and Paganism.
1. Christianity includes all those who believe that the promised Messiah is already come, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, and the Saviour of the world.
2. Judaism, all those who still expect and look for a promised Messiah.
3. Mahometanism, all those who acknowledge Mahomet to have been a Prophet ; and
4. Paganism, all those who have not the knowledge of the true God, but worship idols.
The only people who may not be classed under one or other of these four divisions, are, the Deists and the Atheists ;-the latter differing from tbem all in owning no religion ; and the former, in owning no divine revelation as the foundation of their religion.
The inhabitants of the world may be supposed to amount, at the present time, to about 800,000,000, Of whom we may suppose
The Christians to be
2,500,000 140,000,000 482,000,000
*The name of the Arabian impostor is written differently, by different authors, as Mahomet, Mabomed, Mohammid, &c. As the names Mahomet and Mahometanism, have been generally used in our language, and have the authority of the best writers, they are adopted in this summary.