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

matthew_poole

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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Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713): Rectifying the Papist idea of schism

Pierre Jurieu

Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713), a French Huguenot leader and grandson of the well-known Huguenot pastor Pierre Du Moulin, lived in extremely testing times. His lifetime was marked by great persecution of Protestants by Catholics in France. Like many other Huguenots, Jurieu ended up fleeing to the Netherlands, which at the time was a safe haven for Protestants in Europe, settling in Rotterdam, where he became pastor of the Flemish Walloon Church, the French-speaking Reformed Church in the Netherlands. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Catholic persecution of Protestants in France went rampant.

Four years later, in 1689, Jurieu published a work titled Lettres pastorales adressées aux fidèles de France qui gémissent sous la captivité de Babylon (Pastoral Letters addressed to the Faithful of France who are Groaning under the Captivity of Babylon), which was secretly circulated around France and elsewhere in Europe. The main thrust of these letters are an encouragement to Huguenots in France to persevere in the Reformed faith and not go back to the Catholic Church, offering many arguments and reasons not to do so. This was much easier said than done, of course, since their safety would have been secured if they were to return, and there were a host of persuasive polemical arguments from the Papists which convinced many Huguenots to return to the Roman Church. Throughout these letters, Jurieu addresses these polemical arguments, one of which we will consider below.

One of the stronger polemical arguments the Papists made, which convinced many Protestants to return to Rome, was that the Huguenots had broken away from the one and only true Universal Church, and that consequently they had excluded themselves from salvation.  In Letter 13 of Volume 1, there is a section in which Jurieu discusses this allegation and the Papist view of schism:

“[Breaking the unity of the Roman Church through schism] is a point which your converters [Papists who attempt to convert Huguenots back to Catholicism] continually repeat, and beat upon you. Schism, say they, is a hideous crime: schismatics are out of the Church; there is no salvation for them: and although the Church of Rome itself were corrupt, you ought not to break with her. Their modern writers who seem willing to soften the maxims of the Roman Church do nevertheless observe no measure on this subject, and on this point. They proceed so far as to maintain, that although it should be true that even the Church of Rome should be fallen into idolatry, we ought not to forsake her, and could not justly set up altar against altar…

They say, that even though the Church should fall into idolatry, we cannot be saved if we separate from it. And I say, although even the Church of Rome should have reason at the bottom, and were not idolatrous, and that we were out in our separation, we should not hazard our salvation by continuing as we are [i.e. by continuing as Protestants]. Men are everywhere well where they have Christianity and the marrow and substance of it; and it is a folly to imagine that the salvation of men depends upon the temper of their guides. It may be therefore that Luther and Calvin were mistaken, i.e. that the corruption of the Church of Rome was not great enough to oblige the faithful to go out of her: let us suppose that would have done better to leave things as they were, I do nevertheless maintain, that at this day you do not in any way hazard your salvation by continuing where they have placed you [i.e. in the Protestant Church]; because however it may be, you have Christianity in its integrity, you have it wholly pure and incorrupt. In every society where that is found, a man may be saved, after whatever manner it be formed. The idea which men have formed of schism for many ages past is the most false that can be imagined: but besides the falsehood of it, it is the most dangerous and cruel chimera that could be found. Every society would be Catholic Church to the exclusion of all others. The Church of Rome pretends thus far for herself. The Greek Church makes no less pretence thereto. He that goes out of this Church breaks the unity, and he that breaks it is no longer in the Church. Now, he who is no longer in the Church, is no longer in a state and way of salvation, whatever he say and whatever he do. Behold what they say; behold the chimera.

We must therefore rectify this idea of schism, according to the unity which we have given you. The unity of the Universal Church does not subsist within the bounds of one certain communion, nor in adherence to certain pastors, to the exclusion of all others: but in the unity of spirit, doctrine, sacraments, and evangelical ministry in general, i.e. of pastors declaring the truth of the Gospel. What must be done then to make a schism with respect to the Church Universal? He must renounce the Christian doctrine, the sacraments of the Church, and the Gospel ministry; that is to say, he must be an apostate or a heretic. But every society that goes out of another and greater society of which it was part, makes no schism with respect to the Church Universal, whilst it retains the doctrine, the sacraments, and the ministry of the Gospel: it goes not out of the Church because it carries the Church with it, and it carries the Church with it, because it carries Christianity with it. It carries, say I, the Church with it, in such a manner nevertheless, that it leaves it in the society which it leaves; for leaving true Christianity there, it leaves the true Church there also. And the advantage of being the Church, and of having Christianity, is a privilege which may be possessed entirely, and without prejudice to other Christian societies.”

Jurieu then goes on to distinguish between two kinds of schism: universal and particular schism. He defines universal schism as:

“the renunciation of the Universal Church, by renouncing her doctrine, sacraments, and ministry.”

In other words, universal schism is to break away from the Church entirely and become apostate or utterly heretical. He then defines particular schism as:

“when a man separates from a particular Church, be it for some point of doctrine, be it for some quarrel about discipline, be it for some personal differences of the guides among themselves.”

Jurieu mentions several such particular schisms throughout church history, arguably the greatest example being, of course, the schism between the Greek (Eastern Orthodox) and Latin (Roman Catholic) Churches in 1054. He also mentions schisms in the Latin Church during the later Middle Ages, that of Popes and Anti-Popes, the one seated at Rome and the other at Avignon. He then comes to the Reformation, which he classifies as one of these particular schism, and states:

“…in these last times a great schism has happened in the Latin Church, which is divided into three great bodies: the Papists, the Lutherans, and the Reformed.”

Jurieu argues that the problem with the Papist view of schism is that they confound these two kinds of schism, since they regard particular schisms (such as the Reformation) as universal ones, and hence consider such schismatics as apostates who are altogether excluded from salvation. He would go on to argue that though “peace is to be preferred before division,” nevertheless the separation was made “for reasons of some worth and value, i.e. because of corruption in doctrine and worship,” and since this corruption still persists in the Church of Rome, we therefore cannot return to her.