II. The Church.

From: New Views . . . (1836)
Author: O. A. Brownson
Published: James Munroe and Company 1836 Boston



  THE aim of the Church was to embody the Holy as it existed in the mind of Jesus, and had it succeeded, it would have realized the Atonement; that is, the reconciliation of Spirit and Matter and all their products.

  But the time was not yet. The Paraclete was in expectation. The Church could only give currency to the fact that it was the mission of Jesus to make an atonement. It from the first misapprehended the conditions on which it was to be effected. Instead of understanding Jesus to assert the holiness of both Spirit and Matter, it understood him to admit that Matter was rightfully cursed, and to predicate holiness of Spirit alone. In the sense of the Church then he did not come to atone Spirit and Matter, but to redeem Spirit from the consequences of its connexion with Matter. His name therefore was not the Atoner, the Reconciler, but the Redeemer, and his work not properly an atonement, but a redemption. This was the original sin of the Church.

  By this misapprehension the Church rejected the mediator. The Christ ceases to be the middle term uniting Spirit and Matter, the hilasterion, the mercy-seat, or point where God and man meet and lose their antithesis, the Advocate with the Father for Humanity, and becomes the Avenger of Spirit, the Manifestation of God’s righteous indignation against Man. He dies to save mankind, it is true, but he dies to pay a penalty. God demands man’s everlasting destruction; Jesus admits that God’s demand is just, and dies to discharge it. Hence the symbol of the cross, signifying to the Church an original and necessary antithesis between God and man which can be removed only by the sacrifice of justice to mercy. In this the Church took its stand with Spiritualism, and from a media­ tor became a partisan.

  By taking its stand with Spiritualism the Church condemned itself to all the evils of being exclusive. It obliged itself to reject an important element of truth, and it became subject to all the miseries and vexations of being intolerant. It became responsible for all the consequences which necessarily result from Spiritualism. The first of these consequences was the denial that Jesus came in the flesh. If Matter be essentially unholy, then Jesus, if he had a material body, must have been unholy; if unholy, sinful. Hence all the difficulties of the Gnostics—difficulties hardly adjusted by means of a Virgin Mother and the Immaculate Conception; for this mode of accommodation really denied the God-Man, the symbol of the great truth the Church was to embody. It left the God indeed, but it destroyed the Man, inasmuch as it separated the humanity of Jesus by its very origin from common humanity.

  Man’s inherent depravity, his corruption by nature followed as a matter of course. Man by his very nature partakes of Matter, is material, then unholy, then sinful, corrupt, depraved. He is originally material, therefore originally a sinner. Hence original sin. Sometimes original sin is indeed traced to a primitive disobedience, to the Fall; but then the doctrine of the Fall itself is only one of the innumerable forms which is assumed by the doctrine of the essential impurity of Matter.

  From this original, inherent depravity of human nature necessarily results that antithesis between God and man which renders their union impossible and which imperiously demands the sacrifice of one or the other. “Die he or justice must.” Man is sacrificed on the cross in the person of Jesus. Hence the Vicarious Atonement, the conversion of the Atonement into an Expiation. But, if man was sacrificed, if he died as he deserved in Jesus, his death was eternal. Symbolically then he cannot rise. The body of Jesus after his resurrection is not material in the opinion of the Church. He does not rise God-Man, but God. Hence the absolute Deity of Christ, which under various disguises has always been the sense of the Church.

  From man’s original and inherent depravity it results that he has no power to work out his own salvation. Hence the doctrine of Human Inability. By nature man is enslaved to Matter; he is born in sin and shapen in iniquity. He is sold to sin, to the world, to the devil. He must be ransomed. Matter cannot ransom him; then Spirit must,—and “God the mighty Maker” dies to redeem his creature—to deliver the soul from the influence of Matter.

  But this can be only partially effected in this world. As long as we live, we must drag about with us this clog of earth—matter—and not till after death, when our vile bodies shall be changed into the likeness of Christ’s glorious body, shall we be really saved. We are not then saved here; we only hope to be saved hereafter. Hence the doc­trine which denies holiness to man in this world, which places the kingdom of God exclusively in the world to come, and which establishes a real antithesis between heaven and earth, and the means necessary to secure present well-being and those necessary to secure future blessedness.

  God has indeed died to ransom sinners from the grave of the body, to redeem them from the flesh, to break the chains of the bound and to set the captive free; but the effects of the ransom must be secured; agents must be appointed to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation, to bid the prisoner hope, and the captive rejoice that the hour of release will come. Hence the Church. Hence too the authority of the Church to preach salvation—to save sinners. And as the Church is composed of all who have this authority and of none others, therefore the dogma, “Out of the Church there is no salvation.”

  The Church is commissioned; it is God’s agent in saving sinners. It is then his representative. If the representative of God, then of spirit. In its representative character, that is, as a Church, it is then spiritual, and if spiritual, holy; and if holy, infallible. Hence the Infallibility of the Church.

  The Holy should undoubtedly govern the Unholy; Spirit then should govern Matter. Spirit then is supreme; and the Church as the representative of Spirit must also be supreme. Hence the Supremacy of the Church.

  The Church is a vast body composed of many members. It needs a head. It should also be modelled after the Church above. The Church above has a supreme head, Jesus Christ; the Church below should then have a head, who may be its centre, its unity, the personification of its wisdom and its authority. Hence the Pope, the Supreme Head of the Church, Vicar of Jesus, and Representative of God.

  The Church is a spiritual body. Its supremacy then is a spiritual supremacy. A spiritual supremacy extends to thought and conscience. Hence on the one hand the Confessional designed to solve cases of conscience, and on the other Creeds, Expurgatory Indexes, Inquisitions, Pains and Penalties against Heretics.

  The spiritual order in heaven is absolute; the Church then as the representative of that order must also be absolute. As a representative it speaks not in its own name, but in the name of the power it represents. Since that power may command, the Church may command; and it may command in the name of an absolute sovereign, its commands must be implicitly obeyed. .An absolute sovereign may command to any extent he pleases—what shall be believed as well as what shall be done. Hence Implicit Faith, the Authority which the Church has alleged for the basis of Belief. Hence too prohibitions against reason and reasoning which have marked the Church under all its forms, in all its phases and divisions and subdivisions.

  Reason too is human; then it is material; to set it up against Faith were to set up the Material against the Spiritual; the Human against the Divine; Man against God: for the Church being God by proxy, by representation, it has of course the right to consider whatever is set up against the faith it enjoins as set up against God.

  The Civil Order, if it be any thing more than a function of the Church, belongs to the category of Matter. It is than inferior to the Church. It is then bound to obey the Church. Hence the claims of the Church over civil institutions, its right to bestow the crowns of kings, to place kingdoms under ban, to absolve subjects from their allegiance, and all the wars and antagonism between Church and State.

  The spiritual order alone is holy. Its interests are then the only interests it is not sinful to labor to promote. In laboring to promote them, the Church was under the necessity of laboring for it­self. Hence its justification to itself of its selfish­ ness, its rapacity, its untiring efforts to aggrandize itself at the expense of individuals and of states.

  As the interests of the Church alone were holy, it was of course sinful to be devoted to any others. All the interests of the material order, that is, all temporal interests, were sinful, and the Church never ceased to call them so. Hence its perpetual denunciation of wealth, place and renown, and the obstacles it always placed in the way of all direct efforts for the promotion of well-being on earth. This is the reason why it has discouraged, indeed unchurched, anathematized, all efforts to gain civil and political liberty, and always regarded with an evil eye all industry not directly or indirectly in its own interests.

  This same exclusive Spiritualism borrowed from Asia, striking Matter with the curse of being unclean in its nature, was the reason for enjoining Celibacy upon the Clergy. An idea of sanctity was attached to the ministerial office, which it was sup­ posed any contact with the flesh would sully. It also led devotees, those who desired to lead lives strictly holy, to renounce the flesh, as well as the world and the devil, to take vows of perpetual celibacy and to shut themselves up in Monasteries and Nunneries. It is the origin of all those self­inflicted tortures, mortifications of the body, penances, fastings, and that neglect of this world for another, which fill so large a space in the history of the Church during what are commonly called the “dark ages.” The Church in its theory looked always with horror upon all sensual indulgences. Marriage was sinful, till purified by Holy Church. The song and the dance, innocent amusements, and wholesome recreations, though some­ times conceded to the incessant importunities of Matter, were of the devil. Even the gay dress and blithesome song of nature were offensive. A dark, silent, friar’s frock was the only befitting garb for nature or for man. The beau ideal of a good Christian was one who renounced all his connexions with the world, became deaf to the voice of kindred and of friends, insensible to the sweetest and holiest emotions of humanity, immured himself in a eave or cell, and did nothing the livelong day but count his beads and kiss the crucifix.

  Exceptions there were; but this was the Idea, the dominant tendency of the Church. Thanks, how­ever, to the stubbornness of Matter, and to the superintending care of Providence, its dominant tendency always found powerful resistance, and its Idea was never able fully to realize itself.

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