“The Right of Private Judgment” American Sentinel 12, 11, pp. 167, 168.

AN article in the New York Independent, of March 11, contains the following:—

“No better illustration of the rigid control which the Catholic Church exercises over the consciences of its members can be given than the rules it lays down as to what they may or may not read. We give some of these rules as promulgated only last year by the present rather liberal pope as popes go. Here is one:

“‘Books of apostates, heretics, schismatics, and all other writers which defend heresy or schism, or in any way tend to overthrow the basis of religion, are absolutely forbidden.’

“Every book which defends our Protestant forms of faith is thus absolutely interdicted. Here is another rule:

“‘Likewise are forbidden books of non-Catholics which professedly treat of religion, unless it is known that they contain nothing contrary to Catholic faith.’

“It is not enough, it seems, to forbid books which defend heresy or schism, but any book on religion written by a Protestant is forbidden unless it is known that there is nothing in it that contradicts any part of the Catholic faith. But we are further told in another rule that books by non-Catholic writers which are not on religion, such as novels, we suppose, or scientific treatises, may be read even although they may ‘merely incidentally touch on truths of faith.’

“Next follow, in the document from which we quote, the rules about the Holy Scriptures. No edition of the Bible in the original tongues, and no ancient version in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Armenian, Arabic, or any other language of the earlier church, prepared by a none-Catholic, is allowed to any except those engaged in theological or biblical studies, and to them only, provided no attack is made ‘in the prefaces or notes, on dogmas of the Catholic faith.’

“Much more is it forbidden to read any edition of the Holy Scriptures in the vernacular prepared by a non-Catholic.

“‘Since experience has proved that, on account of man’s boldness, more evil than good arises if the Sacred Books are allowed to all without check in the vulgar tongue; wherefore all versions in the vernacular, even though made by Catholics, are entirely forbidden, unless approved by the Holy See or issued under the care of bishops, with notes taken from the holy fathers of the church and from learned Catholic writers.

“‘Prohibited are all versions of the Holy Scriptures made by whatever non-Catholic writers, in whatever vulgar tongue, and those especially which are spread broadcast by Bible societies, again and again condemned by the Roman pontiffs, since they entirely discard the most salutary laws of the church relative to the issuing of divine books. But these versions are allowed to those who are engaged in theological or biblical studies, on observing the regulations set forth above.’

“If any Catholic wants, for any person, to read a book thus forbidden, he must ask permission not of his confessor, but of his bishop; and this permission must not be easily granted, for the rule says that this permission may be given ‘only in chosen cases and for good and sufficient cause,’ ‘only in urgent cases’ and ‘for single books.’ Furthermore, bishops must ‘proscribe and take out of the hands of the faithful’ any forbidden books that have been circulated. And still further, no Catholic layman is allowed to publish any book on religion without episcopal permission, and no priest can publish on any subject, religious, scientific or social, without such license.”

All this is of course utterly contrary to the principle of individual freedom of judgment in religious matters, which is the very essence of religious liberty. It shows how complete is Rome’s antagonism to that liberty of which she has claimed to be the champion. Upon this point of the individual right of private judgment, Protestantism claims to stand in complete opposition to Rome. But how fully is this claim sustained by leading exponents of Protestantism? What difference is there in principle between Rome’s dictum on the subject, as quoted above, and the following from that very Protestant journal, the Golden Rule, organ of the Societies of Christian Endeavor, in its issue of March 4:—“ENDEAVORER, Princeton, Ill:

“You say that through your own unaided study of the Bible you have become convinced that you should change your church and denomination, and you are especially grieved that you must take this step in opposition to the earnest wishes of your mother. Pardon me if I say that no one should take such a serious step as this relying merely upon his own judgment. You should seek the advice of your pastor, and of others who are wiser than you.”

In other words: After you have talked with God on the subject of your duty, and He has spoken to you, don’t move in the matter until you have had a talk with some man! After consulting with God, don’t fail to consult with your pastor and other fallible mortals around you, and thus avail yourself of their superior wisdom! It would not be safe to take God’s word alone! Of course, God’s word is all right in itself; but you need some human [168] power and wisdom to make you understand it! This is Rome’s position exactly, only Rome, with more worldly wisdom, simply brings the individual to the human authority direct, and thereby saves herself much trouble in the management of her adherents. The very essence of Romanism is the interposing of human authority between the soul and God, and the very essence of this “Protestantism” is the same.

We would not quote this if it were not fairly representative of most of the Protestantism of to-day. Protestant instructors are almost always ready to give this advice to those whom they would guide under such circumstances. They do not make it compulsory upon any, to be sure; they can present no commands from the Church “authorities” forbidding an individual to be guided by his own conscientious understanding of God’s Word. But they go as far as they can in the way of persuading him to set aside his own mind, and be moved, like an automaton, by the mind of another. They differ form Rome only in the means employed, not in the principle involved or the end sought.

What does God himself say about this? James 1:5 gives the answer: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask [not of his pastor or his ‘wiser’ friends, but] of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” True Protestantism believes these words, and leaves every individual free to make them a rule of life.

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