A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Roman Catholics

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ROMAN CATHOLICS, or members of the Church of Rome, otherwise called Papists, from the pope being admitted as the supreme head of the universal church, the successor of St. Peter, and the fountain of theological truth and ecclesiastical honours. He gives bulls for the installing bishops and archbishops.[1] He has power to convoke general councils; to grant dispensations and indulgences; to excommunicate offenders; and to canonize[2] those, whom the church deem worthy of that honour. His jurisdiction is not, like that of other bishops, confined to particular countries, but extends through the whole body of Roman Catholics in the christian world.[3] He keeps his court in great state at the palace of the Vatican, and is attended by seventy cardinals, as his privy counsellors, in imitation of the seventy disciples of our Lord. The pope's authority in other kingdoms is merely spiritual, but in Italy he is a temporal sovereign; Lewis XVIII and the allies having lately restored him to his throne, and to those temporalities of which he was deprived by Buonaparte and the French Revolution. On resuming his government, pope Pious VII has restored the order of Jesuits and the inquisition; so that the Roman Catholic religion is now re-instated in its ancient splendour and authority.

The principal dogmas of this religion are as follow :—

I. That St. Peter was deputed by Christ to be his vicar, and the head of the catholic church; and the bishops of Rome, being his successors, have the same apostolical authority. For our Saviour declares in Matt. xvi. 18. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church;" by which rock they understand St. Peter himself, as the name signifies, and not his confession, as the protestants explain it. And a succession in the church being now supposed necessary under the new testament, as Aaron had his succession in the old, this succession can now be shown only in the chair of St. Peter at Rome: therefore the bishops of Rome are his true successors.

II. That the Roman Catholic church is the mother and mistress of all churches, and cannot possibly err in matters of faith: for the church has the Spirit of God to lead it into all truth ; The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matt. xvi. 18; and Christ, who is himself the Truth, has promised to the pastors and teachers of the church to be with them always, even to the end of the world. Matt, xxviii. 20. A promise which the protestants apply to the faithful in general, and not to any particular communion.

III. That the scriptures are received upon the authority of the church; but are not sufficient to our faith without apostolical traditions, which are of equal authority with the scriptures. For St. Peter assures us that, in St. Paul's epistles, there are some things hard to be understood, which they who are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Pet. iii. 16. We are directed by St. Paul to stand fast, and hold the traditions which we have been taught, whether by word or by epistle. 2 Thess. ii. 15.

IV. That seven sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ; viz. baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, extreme unction, orders, and matrimony; and that they confer grace.— To prove that confirmation, or imposition of hands, is a sacrament, they argue from Acts viii. 17.—Penance is a sacrament, in which the sins we commit after baptism are forgiven; and which they think was instituted by Christ himself when he breathed upon his apostles after his resurrection. John xx. 22. In favour of extreme unction, or anointing the sick with oil, they argue from James v. 14,15, the text as it is rendered in the vulgate: Is any sick among you? Let him call for the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil, &c. The sacrament of holy orders is inferred from 1 Tim. iv. 14 :— That marriage is a sacrament they think evident from Eph. v. 32: This is a great mystery, representing the conjunction of Christ and his church. Notwithstanding this, they enjoin celibacy upon the clergy, because they do not think it proper that those who, by their office and function, ought to be wholly devoted to God, should be diverted from those duties by the distraction of a married life. 1 Cor. vii. 32. 33.

V. That in the mass, or public service, there is offered unto God a true and propitiatory sacrifice for the quick and dead: and that in the sacrament of the ecucharist, under the forms of bread and wine, is really and substantially present the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there is a conversion made of the whole substance of the bread into his body, and of the wine into his blood, which is called transubstantiation; according to our Lord's words to his apostles, This is my body, &c. Matt. xxvi. 26; wherefore it becomes with them an object of adoration. Farther, it is a matter of discipline, not of doctrine, in the Roman church, that the laity receive the eucharist in one kind; that is in bread only.

VI. That there is a purgatory ; and that souls kept prisoners there do receive help by the suffrages of the faithful. For it is said in 1 Cor, iii. 15, If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire; which they understand of the flames of purgatory. They also believe that souls are released from purgatory by the prayers and alms which are offered for them, principally by the holy sacrifice of the mass. They call purgatory a middle state of souls, where those enter who depart this life in God's grace; yet not without some less stain, or guilt of punishment, which retards them from entering heaven.

VII. That the saints reigning with Christ, (and especially the blessed virgin,) are to be honoured and invoked, and that they do offer prayers unto God for us; and their relics to be had in veneration. These honours, however, are not divine, but relative; and redound to the divine glory. See Rev. v. 8; viii. 4, &c.

VIII. That the images of Christ, of the blessed virgin, (the mother of God,)and of other saints, ought to be retained in churches; and honour and veneration to be given to them, even as the images of cherubim were allowed in the most holy place.

IX. That the power of indulgences was left by Christ to the church, and that the use of them is very beneficial to christian people; according to St. Matt. xvi. 19. By indulgences they do not mean leave to commit sin, nor pardon for sins to come; but only releasing, by the power of the keys committed to the church, the debt of temporal punishment, which may remain due upon account of our sins, after the sins themselves, as to their guilt and eternal punishment, have been already remitted through repentance and confession ; and by virtue of the merit of Christ and of all the saints.

The church of Rome receives the Apostles', the Nicene, and Athanasian creeds; with all other things delivered, defined, and declared by the canons, and general councils, and particularly by the council of Trent,[4] which was convened in opposition to the doctrines of Luther and Calvin; since which time no general council has been held.

The ceremonies of this church are numerous and splendid, as the sign of the cross, holy water, blessing of bells, incense and burning of wax tapers by day light with the most splendid vestments, and the most costly crucifixes of silver and gold, images and paintings, &c. They also observe a variety of holy days, as the festivals of Christ and of the saints, &c. The pope also grants a jubilee, i. e. a general indulgence, every twenty-fifth year, or oftener, upon special occasions.[5]

That this is the general doctrine of the Roman Catholic church will not be disputed, though there are many shades of difference according, to the different degrees of light afforded in different countries or circumstances; but the great cardinal point of the catholic religion appears to be implicit faith, or a steadfast determination to believe whatever is taught by the church or the highest ecclesiastical authorities. It is said that according to this principle a correct creed is not of so much importance as a disposition at all times to submit our faith to authority, and to believe as the church believes, without examination or demur.

But the political opinions of the Catholics have been considered of more importance to the welfare of protestant states, and in the general question of toleration. It has been said that the pope claims a dispensing power, as to oaths of allegiance, and a paramount authority beyond all temporal powers. That the Jesuits and some other Catholic priests have taught this, and that some ambitious popes have acted upon this principle, can hardly be denied; but that these claims are now relinquished, and the right denied by intelligent Catholics, appears probable from the following circumstances.

In the year 1788, when the committee of English Catholics waited on Mr. Pitt respecting their application to parliament for a repeal of the penal laws,[6] he proposed several questions "on the existence and extent of the pope's dispensing power, which were transmitted to the universities of Paris, Louvain, Alcala, Douay, Salamanca, and Valledolid, and the following is said to be their unanimous reply.

" I. That the pope, or cardinals, or any body of men, or any individual of the church of Rome, has not any civil authority, power, jurisdiction, or pre-eminence, whatsover, within the realm of England.

" II. That the pope, or cardinals, or any body of men, or any individual of the Church of Rome, cannot absolve or dispense his majesty's subjects from their oaths of allegiance, upon any pretext whatsoever.

"III. That there is no principle in the tenets of the Catholic faith, by which Catholics are justified in not keeping faith with heretics, or other persons differing from them in religious opinions, in any transaction either of a public or a private nature"

As to the persecution of heretics, it is admitted that formerly this was held to be lawful, not by Catholics only but by all the sects in christendom; but that the Catholics now hold such opinion, they "most explicitly deny;" and it is in general denied by all sects and parties, except among the most ignorant and illiberal.

The number of Catholics in Great Britain is estimated at about eighty eight thousand; and in Ireland at about three millions to two of protestants. In the whole of christendom the same writer estimates their number at about eighty millions to sixty five millions of protestants.[7]


Original footnotes[edit]

  1. In some Roman Catholic states, the sovereign nominates persons to bishoprics, and great benefices; but bulls from Rome are necessary to enable them to enter into the exercise of their functions. See Vattel's Law of Nations.
  2. Canonization is a ceremony in the Romish church, by which persons deceased are ranked in the catalogue of saints. The beatification of a saint is previous to his canonization. Before that can take place, attestations of virtues and miracles are necessary. These are examined, sometimes for several years, by the congregation of rites. Before a beatified person is canonized, the qualifications of the candidate are strictly examined into, in consistories held for that purpose. After this, the pope decrees the ceremony, and appoints the day.
  3. This peculiarly distinguishes the bishop of Rome from other bishops.
  4. This council was convoked by Paul III, and assembled in 1546, and continued by twenty-five sessions till the year 1563, under Julius III, and Pius VI, in order to correct, illustrate, and fill with perspicuity the doctrines of the church, to restore the vigour of its discipline, and to reform the lives of its ministers. The decrees of this council, together with the creed of pope Pius IV, contain a summary of the doctrines of the Roman Catholics.
  5. See pope Pius' Creed. Bossuet's Exposition of the Catholic Creed, p. 62 —107. Challoner's True Principles of a Catholic. Gother's Papist. misrepresented and represented. Grounds of the Catholic Doctrine. Explication of the Sacrifice of the Mass, p. 22—35. Roman Catholic principles. Brent's Council of Trent.
  6. The Catholic claims have undergone a discussion in the house of Lords, the result of which has been more favourable to the hopes of that body, than any parliamentary proceeding which has yet taken place. On a motion for taking the subject into early consideration in the next session of parliament, sixty nine voted for it, and seventy three against it, leaving a minority of only four. See Christian Observer, July 1816.
  7. Adam's Religious World displayed, p. 1, &c.—p. 54, 94. Butler's Address to protestants.