Holiness and Ritualism

REV. EDWARD HOARE, M.A. on how Rome satisfies the need for holiness through its ritualism:

Rosary 2006-01-23We may lay it down as a fundamental axiom, that there can be no religion without holiness.  Whatever be our doctrinal opinions, if we be not holy we cannot see the Lord.  And, accordingly, holiness is the great gift of a risen Saviour to his Church.  He has shed forth the Holy Ghost to purify our hearts by faith.  Now, in this Christian holiness there are two or three leading features to be carefully observed.  (1.) It is not a plant which grows naturally in the human heart, but is the especial work of the Holy Ghost himself.  (2.) It consists in a sacred principle which controls the whole man, and not in any one class either of actions or omissions.  (3.) This ruling principle is the constraining power of the love of Christ.  “The love of Christ constraineth us.”  From which remarks it appears at once that true holiness is from its very nature impossible to the unconverted man.  He is not under the influence of the Spirit; he does not know the love of Christ, and he is, therefore, incapable of that hallowed principle which shall bend his whole mind in one direction, and wean him from sin by the consecration of his whole man to God.  Hence, the unconverted man, if thoughtful and conscientious, is sure to feel distressed.  A holy standard is presented to his view, while his conscience convicts him of lamentable defect.  He sees there must be necessity, but has not felt its power.  He sees there must be holiness, but he knows he is not holy.  He is aware that without righteousness there can be no true religion, but he sees so much sin within his heart that he cannot believe himself righteous.

What, then, is to be done?  What is the refuge of the human heart under such circumstances?  Either he must stifle conscience, which is impossible, or he must embrace the Gospel, in which case he would find joy in the Holy Ghost, or he must so accommodate that Gospel as to soothe his heart without changing it, which accommodation is Popery.  And how is this effected?

One mode is by ritualism.

There are two great classes of Christian duties combined in the formation of Christian holiness—moral and positive; moral being the general effect of Christian principle, positive consisting in certain Christian acts.  Now it is plainly in respect to these moral duties or duties of Christian principle that the natural heart finds the chief difficulty, and the outward acts of a ceremonial religion are incomparably easier than the holy dedication of a devoted heart.  Hence it follows that the human heart is naturally prone to slide insensibly from the principle to the ritual, and to endeavour to compensate the defects of the one by a rigid attention to the requirements of the other.  By such an accommodation no part of Divine truth is professedly set aside, but yet, by altering the proportions of the several parts, by throwing a strong light on one side of the picture, and a deep shade on the other, its whole character is completely changed, and religion is given to the natural man though his heart is left unsanctified by the Spirit.

This tendency to substitute ritual for principle may be daily seen in every society.  One thinks himself holy because he has kept his church; another, because he is a regular communicant; a third, because he attends daily service; a fourth, because he never neglects to say his prayers; while a fifth is quite sure that he is born again, because in his infancy he was baptized; although, possibly, neither one nor the other has learned anything of true holiness of heart.  Out of this tendency has sprung up the whole system of Romish righteousness.  The weed that grew out of the human heart it has adroitly cultivated, till it has become the strongest flower in its garden.  What under the Gospel sprang up by nature against the Gospel it has embodied and arranged so as to become a substitute for the Gospel.  Hence, under Popery, ritual has in many cases overpowered principle, and attention to ritual religion is made the substitute for spiritual holiness before God.

It is extremely difficult to produce documentary evidence of any such substitution, for, of course, it is in no case acknowledged.  The truth of our charge, however, may be easily seen in the practice of indulgences.  It is sometimes thought that this monstrous practice has been abandoned by modern Popery.  But such is not the case; for I find in the “Catholic Directory” for 1848, that there are eight plenary indulgences granted to the faithful in the eight districts of England, and four more for the peculiar benefit of the London district.  Now the essence of these indulgences is the substitution of ritual for principle, for the remission of moral sin is promised as a reward to the observance of an ecclesiastical rite.  Take, e.g., one of the indulgences granted by Pope Sixtus IV.:—“Our holy Father, Sixtus IV., Pope, hath granted to all them that devoutly say this prayer before the image of our Lady the sum of 11,000 years of pardon.  Ave Sanctissima Maria, &c.”  So the late Pope issued an apostolic brief to Ambrose Lisle Phillips, Esq., in which, amongst other things, he promises “indulgences of 100 days as often as the members shall recite their appointed decade of the rosary on working days.”  He promises at the same time indulgences of seven years and seven lents as often as they shall recite the aforesaid decades on Sundays and holidays, &c.  It is impossible to imagine a more glaring preference of ritual above principle.  The guilt of moral sin is remitted as a reward for the performance of an ecclesiastical rite.

Another clear illustration of the same principle is seen in the substitution for repentance of what they term the sacrament of penance.  Where you find repentance in the Scriptures you find penance taught by Rome, as, e.g., in Ezek. xviii. 30:—“Repent and turn yourselves from all your transgressions.”  Luke xiii. 3.  “Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish.”  And Acts ii. 38:—“Repent and be baptized every one of you, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  In all these passages the Council of Trent, Sess. xiv. 2, has changed “repent,” into “do penance,” and has so made the rite a substitute for the principle.  Of course the pious Romanist would say, “We have the principle too, for we truly repent in penance.”  But that does not affect the question.  The Bible has promised remission of sin, and connected it with the principle; the Church of Rome has adopted the promise, but transferred it to the rite.

The effects of this on different minds are, of course, very various.  In some of a devout and conscientious character, it produces the most earnest attention to the positive duties of religion, and gives them a dim gleam of doubtful hope in the unceasing observance of all prescribed services.  But when there is not this spirit of devotion, it enables a wicked man to make a compromise with God, and to follow the natural bent of his natural heart, by attending to the Church’s services, while he utterly neglects the weightier matters of the law.

In the late trials for murder in Ireland, it was remarked that many of the guilty culprits were persons remarkable for their attention to the ritual of their Church; and there was a case at the close of the last Irish rebellion in which the hour of a murder was thus proved.  One of the witnesses swore that it took place after the hour of twelve o’clock on Saturday night, and he was sure of the fact because the murderers were determined to have a supper before they went on their guilty errand, and that Saturday being a fast-day, they could not touch meat until after the clock had struck.  The ritual of fasting was rigidly observed, while the regard for life was altogether gone.  In one of the jails at Rome there is a celebrated bandit, by name Gasparoni.  This man, by his deeds of bloodshed, had desolated an extensive district in the neighbourhood of Rome, though all the while he avowed himself a very religious man.  Sir Fowell Buxton inquired of him whether he had fasted when he was a bandit.  He said, “Yes.”  “Why did you fast?” was the next question.  “Because I am of the religion of the Virgin.”  “Which did you think was worse, eating meat on a Friday, or killing a man?”  He answered without hesitation, “In my case it was a crime not to fast; it was no crime to kill those who came to betray me.”  The man had no true holiness, but had taken the ritual of fasting as its substitute, so that in the midst of his murders he believed himself a very religious man.

The same principle appears in the Romish treatment of the Lord’s-day.  The moral commandment of the Most High God is abandoned, and for it you find in many Romish catechisms the substitute of human ritual, “Thou shalt keep the festivals.”  And this appears in the universal practice of Romish countries.  They appear to regard it as a duty to attend mass, but that once done, the whole day is devoted to amusement.  The rite is observed, and the conscience satisfied, so that the unregenerate heart is left at full liberty to pursue its own course, and take its pleasure on the Lord’s holy day.  Thus the same persons who are engaged in the utmost apparent devotion at mass in the morning are found in throngs in the dissolute French theatre at night.  “Attend to the Church’s rites and live as you please,” appears to be the maxim of their morality.

You perceive the same thing in Romish literature.  It has been one of the characteristics of the late movement toward Rome that amongst its most devoted followers it has let loose the spirit of the world.  You will observe, for example, in Burns’s Catalogue the strangest possible mixture of ritualism and worldliness, and will see the book of Romish devotion placed side by ride with the wild German love story.

Thus has Popery taken hold of the great grand gift of Christianity, and presented it to its votaries in a form accommodated to human nature.  It does not deny the necessity of holiness, but it so transforms its character that the unholy man may think he has attained it, and the Italian murderer conscientiously believe himself religious.

Source:  POPERY THE ACCOMMODATION OF CHRISTIANITY TO THE NATURAL HEART at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42280/42280-h/42280-h.htm, p. 13-17

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