Matthew Poole (1624-1679): An English Protestant’s answer to a Popish Priest’s accusation of schism

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The English Nonconformist theologian Matthew Poole (1624-1679), most commonly known for his 5-vol Synopsis Criticorum (a biblical commentary in which he incorporates the views of 150 biblical critics from an array of theological traditions) and for his English Annotations upon the Holy Bible, published a book in 1667 called A Dialogue between a Popish Priest and an English Protestant, which was intended for a popular audience, unlike his more scholarly defence of Protestantism titled The Nullity of the Romish Faith, which was published the year before. In this Dialogue, Poole has the English Protestant and the Popish priest discuss various key points and arguments for their respective positions. One of these is the Popish priest’s accusation that the Protestant is guilty of schism. This is from p. 41-45 of the 1843 reprint:

Popish Priest: It is sufficient against you, that your church is schismatical, and you are all guilty of schism, in departing from the true catholic church, which is but one, and that is the Roman.

Protestant: I desire to know of you, whether in no case a man may separate from the church whereof he was a member, without schism?

Popish Priest: Yes, certainly, if there be sufficient cause for it; for the apostles did separate from the church of the Jews after Christ’s death; and the orthodox separated from the Arian churches, and all communion with them; yet none ever charged them with schism.

Protestant: Since you mention that instance, I pray you tell me why they separated from the Arians.

Popish Priest: Because they held this heresy, that Christ was a creature, and not the true God.

Protestant: Very well; hence then I conclude, that if your church do hold any heresy, and require all her members to hold it too, it is no schism for us to separate from you.

Popish Priest: That must needs be granted; but this is but a slander of yours, for our church holds no such heresies.

Protestant: Your church does not hold one, but many dangerous errors and heresies, as I do not doubt to manifest ere you and I part; and, if you please, we will leave the present argument to this issue: if I do not prove your church guilty of heresy, and the imposition of it too, I am content you should charge us with schism; if I do, you shall mention it no more.

Popish Priest: You speak reason; let it rest there.

Protestant: Besides, methinks, you deal barbarously with us; you drive us out from you by your tyranny, and then you blame us for departing; as if Sarah had called Hagar a schismatic for going out of Abraham’s family. From which she forced her. Tell me, I pray you, if the case be so that I must depart from the Roman church, or from God, what must I do?

Popish Priest: The case is plain; you must rather depart from that church.

Protestant: This is the case; if I do not depart from your church, she will force me to live in many mortal sins. I must believe a hundred lies, I must worship the cross, and relics, and images, which God commands me, under pain of his highest displeasure, not to worship. I must worship the sacrament with Divine worship, which I am assured is no other for substance than bread; for your church is not content to hold these opinions, but she enjoins these practices to all her members. And if things be thus, I think you will not have the confidence any more to charge us with schism for obeying the command of God to come out of Babylon, since you force all your members to partake with you in your sins, Rev. xviii. 4. Besides all this, let me ask you, upon what account you charge us with schism?

Popish Priest: For departing from the catholic church, and from your mother church of Rome, and from the pope, whose subjects once you were.

Protestant: If, then, I can prove that we are not departed from the catholic church, nor from our mother church, nor from any of that subjection we owe to the pope, I hope you will acquit us from schism.

Popish Priest: That I cannot deny.

Protestant: Then this danger is over. For, 1. We never did depart from the catholic church, which is not your particular Roman church, as you most ridiculously call it, but the whole multitude of believers and Christians in the world. Nay, the truth is, you are the schismatics, in renouncing all communion with all the Christian churches in the world, except your own, which are equal to yours in number, and many of them far superior in true piety. Next, we do not own you for our mother: Jerusalem which is above (not Babylon that is beneath) is the mother of us all, Gal. iv. 26. If we grant you now are a true church, yet you were but a sister-church.

Popish Priest: You forget that you received the gospel from our hands.

Protestant: Suppose we did really so; does that give you authority over us? If it did, not Rome, but Jerusalem should be the mother-church, from whom you also received the gospel. This you deny, which shows that you do not believe your own argument to be good. And as to the pope’s universal and infallible authority, which he pretends over all Christians, I have diligently read your arguments for it, and I freely profess to you, I find your pretences, both from Scripture and the fathers, so weak and frivolous, that I durst commend it to any understanding and disinterested person, as a most likely means to convince him of the vanity and falseness of that doctrine, that he would peruse any of your best authors, and the very sight of the weakness and impertinency of your arguments would abundantly satisfy him of the badness of your cause.

For another Protestant defence against the Catholic accusation of schism, see this recent post from French Huguenot Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713)

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Matthew Poole (1624–1679) on Matthew 5:44-45

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“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”

– Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:44-45

“As your heavenly Father hath a common love, which he extendeth to all mankind, in supplying their necessities, with the light and warmth of the sun, and with the rain; as well as a special love and favour, which he exerciseth only toward those that are good, and members of Christ; so ought you to have: through you are not obliged to take your enemies into your bosom, yet you ought to love them in their order. And as your heavenly Father, though he will one day have a satisfaction from sinners, for the wrong done to his majesty, unless they repent; yet, to heap coals of fire on their heads, gives them good things of common providence, that he might not leave them without witness, yea, and affords them the outward means of grace for their souls: so, although you are bound to seek some satisfaction for God’s honour and glory from flagitious sinners, and though you may in an orderly course seek a moderate satisfaction for the wrong done to yourselves, yet you ought to love them with a love consistent with these things; that so you may imitate your heavenly Father, and approve yourselves to be his children.”

– Matthew Poole (1624–1679), Annotations Upon the Holy Bible, 3:26