Howbeit, we make a difference of heresies, accounting them in the next degree to infidelity which directly deny any one thing to be which is expressly acknowledged in the articles of our belief; for out of any one article so denied the denial of the very foundation itself is straightway inferred. As, for example, if a man should say, "There is no Catholic Church," it followeth immediately hereupon that this Jesus whom we call the Saviour is not the Saviour of the world; because all the prophets bear witness that the true Messias should "show a light unto the Gentiles," [Luke 2:32; Acts 26:23] that is to say, gather such a church as is catholic, not restrained any longer unto one circumcised nation. In a second rank we place them out of whose positions the denial of any of the foresaid articles may be with like facility concluded. Such are they who have denied either the divinity of Christ, with Ebion, or with Marcion his humanity, an example whereof may be that of Cassianus defending the incarnation of the Son of God against Nestorius bishop of Antioch, who held that the Virgin, when she brought forth Christ, did not bring forth the Son of God but a sole and mere man;1 out of which heresy the denial of the articles of the Christian faith he deduceth thus:
If thou dost deny our Lord Jesus Christ to be God, in denying the Son thou canst not choose but deny the Father; for, according to the voice of the Father himself, "He that hath not the Son hath not the Father." (I John ii:23) Wherefore denying him that is begotten thou deniest him who doth beget. Again, denying the Son of God to have been born in the flesh, how canst thou believe him to have suffered? Believing not his passion, what remaineth but that thou deny his resurrection? For we believe him not raised, except we first believe him dead; neither can the reason of his rising from the dead stand without the faith of his death going before. The denial of his death and passion inferreth the denial of his rising from the depth. Whereupon it followeth that thou also deny his ascension into heaven: the Apostle affirming that "he who ascended did first descend." (Ephesians iv:9) So that, as much as lieth in thee, our Lord Jesus Christ hath neither risen from the depth, nor is ascended into heaven, nor sitteth at the right hand of God the Father, neither shall he come at the day of final account, which is looked for, nor shall judge the quick and dead. And darest thou yet set foot in the church? Canst thou think thyself a bishop when thou hast denied all those things whereby thou didst obtain a bishoply calling? (John Cassian, De Incarnatione Domini Contra Nestorium, 6:17f)
Nestorius confessed all the articles of the creed, but his opinion did imply the denial of every part of his confession. Heresies there are of a third part, such as the Church of Rome maintaineth, which, being removed by a greater distance from the foundation, although indeed they overthrow it, yet because of that weakness which the philosopher noteth in men's capacities when he saith that the common sort cannot see things which follow in reason, when they follow, as it were, afar off by many deductions; therefore the repugnancy between such heresy and the foundation is not so quickly nor so easily found but that an heretic of this sooner than of the former kind may directly grant, and consequently nevertheless deny, the foundation of faith.
If reason be suspected, trial will show that the Church of Rome doth no otherwise by teaching the doctrine she doth teach concerning works. Offer them the very fundamental words, and what one man is there that will refuse to subscribe unto them? Can they directly grant and deny directly one and the selfsame thing? Our own proceedings in disputing against their works satisfactory and meritorious do show not only that they hold, but that we acknowledge them to hold, the foundation notwithstanding their opinion. For are not these our arguments against them: "Christ alone hath satisfied and appeased his Father's wrath; Christ hath merited salvation alone"? We should do fondly to use such disputes, neither could we think to prevail by them, if that whereupon we ground were a thing which we know they do not hold, which we are assured they will not grant. Their very answers to all such reasons as are in this controversy brought against them will not permit us to doubt whether they hold the foundation or no. Can any man who hath read their books concerning this matter be ignorant how they draw all thelr answers unto these heads?
That the remission of all our sins, the pardon of all whatsoever punishments thereby deserved, the rewards which God hath laid up in heaven, are by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ purchased and obtained sufficiently for all men; but for no man effectually for his benefit in particular, except the blood of Christ be applied particularly unto him by such means as God hath appointed it to work by.
That those means of themselves being dead things, only the blood of Christ is that which putteth life, force, and efficacy in them to work, and to be available, each in his kind, to our salvation.
Finally, that grace being purchased for us by the blood of Christ, and freely without any merit or desert at the first bestowed upon us, the good things which we do, after grace received, are made satisfactory and meritorious.
Some of their sentences to this effect I must allege for mine own warrant. If we desire to hear foreign judgments, we find in one this confession:
He that would reckon how many the virtues and merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ have been might likewise understand how many the benefits have been that are come unto us by him, forasmuch as men are made partakers of them all by the means of his passion: by him is given unto us remission of our sins, grace, glory, liberty, praise, peace, salvation, redemption, justification, justice, sanctification, sacraments, merits, doctrine, and all other things which we had, and were behoveful for our salvation. (Lewis of Granada)
In another we have these oppositions and answers made unto them:
All grace is given by Christ Jesus. True; but not except Christ Jesus be applied. He is the propitiation for our sins; by his stripes we are healed; he hath offered up himself for us: all this is true, but apply it.(cf. 1 John 2:2; Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24; Hebrews 7:27; 9:14; 10:12) We put all satisfaction in the blood of Jesus Christ; but we hold that the means which Christ hath appointed for us in this case to apply it are our penal works. (Francis Panigarola)
Our countrymen in Rheims 2 make the like answer, that they seek salvation no other way than by the blood of Christ, and that humbly they do use prayers, fasting, alms, faith, charity, sacrifice, sacraments, priests, only as the means appointed by Christ, to apply the benefit of his holy blood unto them: touching our good works, that in their own natures they are not meritorious nor answerable unto the joys of heaven; it cometh by the grace of Christ, and not of the work itself, that we have by well-doing a right to heaven and deserve it worthily.
If any men think that I seek to varnish their opinions, to set the better foot of a lame cause foremost, let him know that since I began throughly to understand their meaning I have found their halting in this doctrine greater than perhaps it seemeth to them who know not the deepness of Satan, as the blessed Divine speaketh. (Rev 2:24) For, although this be proof sufficient, that they do not deny directly the foundation of faith, yet, if there were no other leaven in the whole lump of their doctrine but this, this were sufficient to prove that their doctrine is not agreeable with the foundation of Christian faith. The Pelagians, being over-great friends unto nature, made themselves enemies unto grace, for all their confessing that men have their souls and all the faculties thereof, their wills and the ability of their wills, from God. And is not the Church of Rome still an adversary unto Christ's merits, because of her acknowledging that we have received the power of meriting by the blood of Christ? Sir Thomas More setteth down the odds between us and the Church of Rome in the matter of works thus:
Like as we grant them that no good work of man is rewardable in heaven of his own nature, but through the goodness of God, that list to set so high a price upon so poor a thing, and that this price God setteth through Christ's passion, and for that also they be his own works with us (for good works to God-ward worketh no man, without God work in him); and as we grant them also that no man may be proud of his works for his own imperfect working; and for that in all that man may do he can do no good, but is a servant unprofitable and doth but his bare duty; as we, I say, grant unto them these things, so this one thing or twain do they grant us again, that men are bound to work good works if they have time and power, and that whoso worketh in true faith most shall be most rewarded; but then set they thereto that all his rewards shall be given him for his faith alone, and nothing for his works at all, because his faith is the thing, they say, and forceth him to work well. (Thomas More, A Dialogue Of Comfort, I, 12)
I see by this of Sir Thomas More how easy it is for men of great capacity and judgment to mistake things written or spoken, as well on one side as on another. Their doctrine, as he thought, maketh the works of man rewardable in the world to come through the mere goodness of God, whom it pleaseth to set so high a price upon so poor a thing; and ours, that a man doth receive that eternal and high reward, not for his works, but for his faith's sake by which he worketh; whereas in truth our doctrine is no other than that which we have learned at the feet of Christ: namely, that God doth justify the believing man, yet not for the worthiness of his belief, but for his worthiness who is believed; God rewardeth abundantly everyone who worketh, yet not for any meritorious dignity which is, or can be, in the work, but through his mere mercy, by whose commandment he worketh. Contrariwise, their doctrine is that, as pure water of itself hath no savour, but if it pass through a sweet pipe it taketh a pleasant smell of the pipe through which it passeth, so also, before grace received, our works do neither satisfy nor merit; yet after, they do both the one and the other. Every virtuous action hath then power in such sort to satisfy that if we ourselves commit no mortal sin, no heinous crime, whereupon to spend this treasure of satisfaction in our own behalf, it turneth to the benefit of other men's release on whom it shall please the steward of the house of God to bestow it; so that we may satisfy for ourselves and for others, but merit only for ourselves. In meriting, our actions do work with two hands: with the one they get their morning stipend, the increase of grace; with the other their evening hire, the everlasting crown of glory. Indeed, they teach that our good works do not these things as they come from us, but as they come from grace in us; which grace in us is another thing in their divinity than is the mere goodness of God's mercy toward us in Christ Jesus.3
If it were not a strong deluding spirit which hath possession of their hearts, were it possible but that they should see how plainly they do herein gainsay the very ground of apostolic faith? Is this that salvation by grace whereof so plentiful mention is made in the sacred Scriptures of God? Was this their meaning who first taught the world to look for salvation only by Christ? By grace, the Apostle saith, and by grace in such sort as a gift, a thing that cometh not of ourselves, not of our works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians. 2:8-10) and say, "I have wrought out mine own salvation." By grace they confess; but by grace in such sort that as many as wear the diadem of bliss, they wear nothing but what they have won. The Apostle, as if he had foreseen how the Church of Rome would abuse the world in time by ambiguous terms, to declare in what sense the name of grace must be taken, when we make it the cause of our salvation, saith, "He saved us according to his mercy"; (Titus 3:5) which mercy, although it exclude not the washing of our new birth, the renewing of our hearts by the Holy Ghost, the means, the virtues, the duties which God requireth at their hands who shall be saved, yet it is so repugnant unto merits that to say we are saved for the worthiness of anything which is ours is to deny we are saved by grace. Grace bestoweth freely, and therefore justly requireth the glory of that which is bestowed. We deny the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we imbase, disannul, annihilate the benefit of his bitter passion, if we rest in those proud imaginations that life everlasting is deservedly ours, that we merit it, and that we are worthy of it.
Sundry perilous opinions
Howbeit, considering how many virtuous and just men, how many saints, how many martyrs, how many of the ancient fathers of the Church have had their sundry perilous opinions -- and among sundry of their opinions this, that they hoped to make God some part of amends for their sins by the voluntary punishments which they laid upon themselves: because by a consequent it may follow hereupon that they were injurious unto Christ, shall we therefore make such deadly epitaphs and set them upon their graves: "They denied the foundation of faith directly, they are damned, there is no salvation for them"? St. Augustine hath said, "Errare possum, haereticus esse nolo." ("I may be mistaken, but I have not the will to be heretical.") And except we put a difference between them that err and them that obstinately persist in error, how is it possible that ever any man should hope to be saved?
Surely, in this case, I have no respect of any person alive or dead. Give me a man, of what estate or condition soever, yea, a cardinal or a pope, whom at the extreme point of his life affliction hath made to know himself, whose heart God hath touched with true sorrow for all his sins, and filled with love toward the Gospel of Christ, whose eyes are opened to see the truth, and his mouth to renounce all heresy and error any way opposite thereunto, this one opinion of merits excepted, which he thinketh God will require at his hands, and because he wanteth, therefore trembleth and is discouraged: "It may be I am forgetful or unskilful, not furnished with things new and old, as a wise and learned scribe should be," (Matthew 13:52) nor able to allege that whereunto, if it were alleged, he doth bear a mind most willing to yield, and so to be recalled as well from this as from other errors -- and shall I think, because of this only error, that such a man toucheth not so much as the hem of Christ's garment? If he do, wherefore should not I have hope that virtue may proceed from Christ to save him? Because his error doth by consequent overthrow his faith shall I therefore cast him off as one who hath utterly cast of Christ, one who holdeth not so much as by a slender thread? No, I will not be afraid to say unto a cardinal or to a pope in this plight, "Be of good comfort, we have to do with a merciful God, ready to make the best of that little which we hold well, and not with a captious sophister who gathereth the worst out of everything wherein we err." Is there any reason that I should be suspected, or you offended, for this speech?
Let all affection be laid aside; let the matter be indifferently considered. Is it a dangerous thing to imagine that such men may find mercy? The hour may come when we shall think it a blessed thing to hear that if our sins were as the sins of the pope and cardinals the bowels of the mercy of God are larger. I do not propose unto you a pope with the neck of an emperor under his foot, a cardinal riding his horse to the bridle in the blood of saints, but a pope or a cardinal sorrowful, penitent, disrobed, stripped, not only of usurped power, but also delivered and recalled from error and Antichrist, converted and lying prostrate at the feet of Christ; and shall I think that Christ will spurn him? Shall I cross and gainsay the merciful promises of God generally made unto penitent sinners by opposing the name of a pope or a cardinal? What difference is there between a pope and cardinal, and a John a Style, in this case? If we think it impossible for them, after they be once come within that rank, to be afterwards touched with any such remorse, let that be granted. The Apostle saith, "If I or an angel from heaven preach unto you," etc. (Galatians 1:8) Let it be as likely that St. Paul or an angel from heaven should preach heresy as that a pope or a cardinal should be brought so far forth to acknowledge the truth; yet if a pope or a cardinal should, what could we find in their persons why they might not be saved? It is not their persons, you will say, but the error wherein I suppose them to die which excludeth them from hope of mercy: the opinion 4 of merits doth take away all possibility of salvation from them. What, although they hold it only as an error; although they hold the truth soundly and sincerely in all other parts of Christian faith; although they have in some measure all the virtues and graces of the Spirit, all other tokens of God's elect children in them; although they be far from having any proud presumptuous opinion that they shall be saved for the worthiness of their deeds; although the only thing which troubleth and molesteth them be but a little too much dejection, somewhat too great a fear, rising from an erroneous conceit that God will require a worthiness in them which they are grieved to find wanting in themselves; although they be not obstinate in this persuasion; although they be willing and would be glad to forsake it, if any one reason were brought to disprove it; although the only let why they do not forsake it ere they die be the ignorance of the means whereby it might be disproved; although the cause why the ignorance in this point is not removed be the want of knowledge in such as should be able, and are not, to remove it? Let me die if ever it be proved that simply an error doth exclude a pope or a cardinal, in such a case, utterly from hope of life. Surely, I must confess unto you, if it be an error to think that God may be merciful to save men even when they err, my greatest comfort is my error: were it not for the love I bear unto this error, I would neither wish to speak nor to live.
The merciful promises of God generally made
Wherefore, to resume that mother-sentence, whereof I little thought that so much trouble would have grown, "I doubt not but God was merciful to save thousands of our fathers living in popish superstitions, inasmuch as they sinned ignorantly": alas, what bloody matter is there contained in this sentence that it should be an occasion of so many hard censures! Did I say that "thousands of our fathers might be saved"? I have showed which way it cannot be denied. Did I say, "I doubt it not but they were saved"? I see no impiety in this persuasion, though I had no reason in the world for it. Did I say. "Their ignorance doth make me hope they did find mercy and so were saved"? What doth hinder salvation but sin? Sins are not equal; and ignorance, though it do not make sin to be no sin, yet, seeing it did make their sin the less, why should it not make our hope concerning their life the greater? We pity the most, and I doubt not but God hath most compassion over, them that sin for want of understanding. As much is confessed by sundry others, almost in the selfsame words which I have used. It is but only my ill hap that the same sentences which favor verity in other men's books should seem to bolster heresy when they are once by me recited. If I be deceived in this point, not they but the blessed Apostle hath deceived me. What I said of others, the same he saith of himself: "I obtained mercy, for I did it ignorantly." (1 Timothy 1:13) Construe his words, and ye cannot misconstrue mine. I speak no otherwise, I meant no otherwise.
Thus have I brought the question concerning our fathers at the length unto an end; of whose estate, upon so fit an occasion as was offered me, handling the weighty causes of separation between the Church of Rome and us, and the weak motives which commonly are brought to retain men in that society, amongst which motives the example of our fathers deceased is one; although I saw it convenient to utter that sentence which I did, to the end that all men might thereby understand how untruly we are said to condemn as many as have been before us otherwise persuaded than we ourselves are; yet more than one sentence I did not think it expedient to utter, judging it a great deal meeter for us to have regard to our own estate than to sift over curiously what is become of other men; and fearing lest that such questions as this, if voluntarily they should be too far waded in, might seem worthy of that rebuke which our Saviour thought needful in a case not unlike: "What is this unto thee?" (John 21:22) When as I was forced, much besides mine expectation, to render a reason of my speech, I could not but yield at the call of others to proceed as duty bound me for the fuller satisfaction of men's minds. Wherein I have walked, as with reverence, so with fear: with reverence in regard of our fathers who lived in former times; not without fear, considering them that are alive.
I am not ignorant how ready men are to feed and soothe up themselves in evil. Shall I (will the man say that loveth the present world more than he loveth Christ), shall I incur the high displeasure of the mightiest upon earth, shall I hazard my goods, endanger my estate, put my life in jeopardy, rather than yield to that which so many of my fathers have embraced, and yet found favour in the sight of God? "Curse Meroz, saith the Lord, curse her inhabitants because they help not the Lord, they help him not against the mighty." (Judges 5:23) If I should not only not help the Lord against the mighty, but help to strengthen them that are mighty against the Lord, worthily might I fall under the burden of that curse, worthy I were to bear my own judgment. But if the doctrine which I teach be a flower gathered in the garden of the Lord, a part of the saving truth of the Gospel, from whence notwithstanding poisoned creatures do suck venom, I can but wish it were otherwise and content myself with the lot that hath befallen me, the rather because it hath not befallen me alone. St. Paul did preach a truth, and a comfortable truth, when he taught that the greater our misery is in respect of our iniquities the readier is the mercy of our God for our release, if we seek unto him; the more we have sinned, the more praise and glory and honour unto him that pardoneth our sin.
But mark what lewd collections were made hereupon by some: "Why then am I condemned for a sinner?" And, saith the Apostle, "as we are blamed and as some affirm that we say, why do we not evil that good may come of it?" (Romans 3:7f) He was accused to teach that which ill-disposed men did gather by his teaching, though it were clean not only beside but also against his meaning. The Apostle addeth: "Their condemnation who thus do is just." I am not hasty to apply sentences of condemnation: I wish from my heart their conversion, whosoever are thus perversely affected. For I must needs say, their case is fearful, their estate dangerous, who harden themselves, presuming on the mercy of God towards others. It is true that God is merciful, but let us beware of presumptuous sins. (Ps 19:13) God delivered Jonah from the bottom of the sea: will you therefore cast yourselves headlong from the tops of rocks and say in your hearts, "God shall deliver us"? ( Matthew 4:5-7) He pitieth the blind that would gladly see; but will God pity him that may see and hardeneth himself in blindness? No; Christ hath spoken too much unto you for you to claim the privilege of your fathers.
As for us that have handled this cause concerning the condition of our fathers, whether it be this thing or any other which we bring unto you, the counsel is good which the wise man giveth: "Stand thou fast in thy sure understanding, in the way and knowledge of the Lord, and have but one manner of word, and follow the word of peace and righteousness." (Ecclesiastes 5:10) As a loose tooth is a great grief unto him that eateth, so doth a wavering and unstable word, in speech that tendeth to instruction, offend. "Shall a wise man speak words of the wind," saith Eliphaz -- light, inconstant, unstable words? (Job 15:2) Surely the wisest may speak words of the wind: such is the untoward constitution of our nature that we neither do so perfectly understand the way and knowledge of the Lord, nor so steadfastly embrace it when it is understood, nor so graciously utter it when it is embraced, nor so peaceably maintain it when it is uttered, but that the best of us are overtaken sometimes through blindness, sometimes through hastiness, sometimes through impatience, sometimes through other passions of the mind, whereunto (God doth know) we are too subject.
We must therefore be contented both to pardon others and to crave that others may pardon us for such things. Let no man who speaketh as a man think himself (whilst he liveth) always freed from scapes and oversights in his speech. The things themselves which I have spoken unto you I hope are sound, howsoever they have seemed otherwise unto some, at whose hands if I have, in that respect, received injury, I willingly forget it; although, in truth, considering the benefit which I have reaped by this necessary search of truth, I rather incline unto that of the Apostle, "They have not injured me at all." (2 Corinthians 2:5,10) I have cause to wish, and I do wish them as many blessings in the kingdom of heaven as they have forced me to utter words and syllables in this cause, wherein I could not be more sparing in speech than I have been. "It becometh no man," saith St. Jerome, "to be patient in the crime of heresy." 5 Patient, as I take it, we should be always, though the crime of heresy were intended; but silent in a thing of so great consequence I could not, beloved, I durst not be; especially the love which I bear to the truth in Christ Jesus being hereby somewhat called in question. Whereof I beseech them, in the meekness of Christ, (II Cor 10:1) that have been the first original cause, to consider that a watchman may cry "An enemy!" when indeed a friend cometh. In which case, as I deem such a watchman to be more worthy to be loved for his care than misliked for his error, so I have judged it my own part in this case, as much as in me lieth, to take away all suspicion of any unfriendly intent or meaning against the truth, from which, God doth know, my heart is free.
Now to you, beloved, who have heard these things I will use no other words of admonition than those which are offered me by St. James: "My brethren, have not this faith of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ in respect of persons." (James 2:1) Ye are now to learn that, as of itself it is not hurtful, so neither should it be to any man scandalous and offensive, in doubtful cases, to hear the different judgment of men. Be it that Cephas hath one interpretation and Apollos hath another, that Paul is of this mind and Barnabas of that; if this offend you, the fault is yours. Carry peaceable minds, and ye may have comfort by this variety.
Now the God of peace give you peaceable minds and turn it to your everlasting comfort!
1. It is no longer taken for granted that Nestorius actually taught the heresy ascribed to him. Also, Antioch appears to have been a mistake, for Constantinople.
2. The site of a Jesuit seminary for the training of English priests, and a general gathering-place for Roman Catholic expatriates from England
3. Trent, VI, chs 7,10
4. The Greek words used in the New Testament translated "heresies", αἵρεσις (hairesis), essentially means "opinion," though the same spelling and pronunciation is used for conquering. It is like the two English words, "foot" and "foot," one at the end of a leg, the other a unit of measure.
5. Jerome, Against John of Jerusalem, J P Migne, Patrolologioe Latinae, vol. 33