Father Arnold Damen was born in the province of North Brabant, Holland, on March 20, 1815. He was admitted to the Society of Jesus, November 21, 1837, and was one of the band of young novices brought over to this country by Father De Smet, renowned Jesuit missionary to the American Indians.
In his illustrious career, which spanned some fifty years of apostolic work before his death on January 1, 1890, Father Damen and his companions conducted missions in nearly every principal city of the United States. He is said to have been more widely known in this country, and at one time to have exercised personally a greater influence than any bishop or priest in the Catholic Church. Little wonder, for his majestic presence and force of eloquence, Father Damen as a missionary rose to a success that surpassed anything ever before or since known in America.
The fiery apostolic zeal of this beloved and pious priest can only scarcely be measured by the twelve thousand conversions to Catholicism for which he was responsible, often receiving as many as sixty or seventy souls into the Church in one day. For it must be noted, too, that in the midst of all this remarkable labor, he also managed to found and to organize the great Jesuit institutions of Chicago that stand today as monuments to his holy memory.
What explains the inspiring achievements of Father Damen? As one writer expressed it: "He cared nothing for applause or criticism. He was working to save souls." In other words, his noble accomplishments were the fruits of immense charity. That is, charity in the truest sense: He loved God and his fellow man so much that he would spare no energy or effort that was necessary to wrest a soul from the spiritual error and darkness which would bring about its eternal loss. And to this saintly Jesuit, such was the certain fate always and everywhere present outside the One True Church.
Father Damen preached in an age quite recent to our own, when Catholics not only still universally believed but lived by the infallibly declared, immutable constant dogma of the Faith: Outside the Church there is no salvation. This was, in fact, his whole creed and teaching, by which he effectively converted so many.
We are pleased to reprint Father Damen's compelling sermon, The One True Church, unedited, exactly as it was first published shortly after his death in 1890. [Now combined in one 31 page booklet with his sermon The Church or the Bible]. We urge you to purchase a large quantity of these booklets for widespread distribution, not only for those outside of the Catholic Faith, but also for Catholics who need to be better instructed and informed about our holy religion.
My Dearly Beloved Christians: -- From these words of our Divine Savior, it has already been proved to you, that Faith is necessary for Salvation, and without Faith there is no salvation; without Faith there is eternal damnation. Read your own Protestant Bible, 16th verse of St. Mark, and you will find it stronger there than in the Catholic Bible.
Now, then, what kind of Faith must a man have to be saved? Will any Faith do? Why, if any Faith will do, the devil himself will be saved, for the Bible says the devils believe and tremble.
It is, therefore, not a matter of indifference what religion a man professes; he must profess the right and true religion, and without that there is no hope of salvation, for it stands to reason, my dear people, that if God reveals a thing or teaches a thing, He wants to be believed. Not to believe is to insult God. Doubting His word, or believing even with doubt and hesitating, is an insult to God, because it is doubting His Sacred Word. We must, therefore, believe without doubting, without hesitating.
I have said, out of the Catholic Church there is not Divine Faith; there can be no Divine Faith out of that Church. Some of my Protestant friends will be shocked at this, to hear me say that out of the Catholic Church there is no Divine Faith, and that without Faith there is no salvation, but damnation. I will prove all I have said.
I have said that out of the Church there can be no Divine Faith. What is Divine Faith? When we believe a thing upon the authority of God, and believe it without doubt, without hesitating. Now, all our separated brethren outside of the Catholic Church take the private interpretation of the Bible for their guide; but the private interpretation of the Bible can never give them Divine Faith.
Let me, for instance, suppose for a moment, here is a Presbyterian; he reads his Bible; from the reading of his Bible he comes to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is God. Now, you know this is the most essential of all Christian doctrines, the foundation of all Christianity. From the reading of his Bible he comes to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is God; and he is a sensible man, an intelligent man, and not a presumptuous man. And he says: here is my Unitarian neighbor, who is just as reasonable and intelligent as I am, as honest, as learned, and as prayerful as I am, and, from the reading of the Bible, he comes to the conclusion that Christ is not God at all. "Now," says he, "to the best of my opinion and judgment, I am right, and my Unitarian neighbor is wrong; but, after all," says he, "I may be mistaken! Perhaps I have not the right meaning of the text, and if I am wrong, perhaps he is right, after all; but, to the best of my opinion and judgment, I am right and he is wrong."
On what does he believe? On what authority? On his own opinion and judgment. And what is that? A human opinion, human testimony, and, therefore, a human faith. He cannot say positively, "I am sure, positively sure, as sure as there is a God in heaven, that this is the meaning of the text." Therefore, he has no other authority but his own opinion and judgment, and what his preacher tells him. But the preacher is a smart man. There are many smart Unitarian preachers, also, but that proves nothing; it is only human authority, and nothing else, and, therefore, only human faith. What is human faith? Believing a thing on the testimony of man. Divine Faith is believing on the testimony of God.
The Catholic has Divine Faith, and why? Because the Catholic says: "I believe in such and such a thing." Why? "Because the Church teaches me so." And why do you believe the Church? "Because God has commanded me to believe the teaching of the Church; and God has threatened me with damnation if I do not believe the Church, and we are taught by St. Peter, in his epistle, that there is no private prophecy or interpretation of the Scriptures, for the unlearned and unstable wrest the very Scriptures, the Bible, to their own damnation."
That is strong language, my dear people, but that is the language of St. Peter, the head of the Apostles. The unlearned and unstable wrest the Bible to their own damnation! And yet, after all, the Bible is the book of God, the language of inspiration; at least, when you have a true Bible, as we Catholics have, and you Protestants have not.
But, my dearly beloved Protestant friends, do not be offended at me for saying that. Your own most learned preachers and bishops tell you that, and some have written whole volumes in order to prove that the English translation, which you have, is a very faulty and false translation.
Now, therefore, I say that the true Bible is as the Catholics have it, the Latin Vulgate; and the most learned among the Protestants themselves have agreed that the Latin Vulgate Bible, which the Catholic Church always makes use of, is the best in existence; and, therefore, it is, as you may have perceived, that when I preach I give the text in Latin, because the Latin text of the Vulgate is the best extant.
Now, they may say that Catholics acknowledge the Word of God, that it is the language of inspiration; and that, therefore, we are sure that we have the word of God; but, my dear people, the very best thing may be abused, the very best thing; and, therefore, our Divine Savior has given us a living teacher, that is to give us the true meaning of the Bible.
And He has provided a teacher with infallibility; and this was absolutely necessary, for without this, without infallibility we could never be sure of our Faith. There must be an infallibility; and we see that in every well-ordered government, in every government; in England, in the United States, and in every country, empire and republic, there is a Constitution and a supreme law.
But you are not at liberty to explain the Constitution and Supreme Law as you think proper, for then there would be no more law if every man were allowed to explain the law and Constitution as he should think proper.
Therefore, in all governments there is a supreme judge and supreme court, and to the supreme judge is referred all different understandings of the law and the Constitution. By the decisions of the supreme judge all have to abide, and if they did not abide by that decision why, my dear people, there would be no law any more, but anarchy, disorder and confusion.
Again, suppose for a moment that the Blessed Savior has been less wise than human governments, and that He had not provided for the understanding of His Constitution, and of His Law of the Church of God. If He had not, my dear people, it would never have stood as it has stood for the last eighteen hundred and fifty four years. He has then established a Supreme Court, a Supreme Judge in the Church of the Living God.
It is admitted on all sides, by Protestants and Catholics alike acknowledged, that Christ has established a Church; and, strange to say, all our Protestant friends acknowledge, too, that He has established but one Church, but one Church. for, whenever Christ speaks of His Church, it is always in the singular. Bible readers, remember that; my Protestant friends, pay attention. He says: Hear the Church, not "hear the churches" I have built My Church upon a rock", not My churches.
Whenever He speaks, whether in figures or parables of His Church, He always conveys to the mind a oneness, a union, a unity.
He speaks of His Church as a sheepfold, in which there is but one shepherd that is the head of all, and the sheep are made to follow his voice; "other sheep I have who are not of this fold." One fold, you see. He speaks of His Church as of a kingdom, in which there is but one king to rule all; speaks of His Church as a family in which there is but one father at the head; speaks of His Church as a tree, and all the branches of that tree are connected to the trunk, and the trunk with the roots; and Christ is the root, and the trunk is Peter and the Popes, and the large branches are the bishops, and the smaller branches the priests, and the fruit upon the tree are the faithful throughout the world; and the branch, says He, that is cut off from that tree shall wither away, produce no fruit, and is only fit to be cast into the fire, that is, damnation.
This is plain speaking, my dear people; but there is no use in covering the Truth. I want to speak the Truth to you, as the Apostles preached it in their time; no salvation out of the Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Now, which is that Church? There are now three hundred and fifty different Protestant churches in existence, and almost ever year one or two more are added; and besides this number there is the Roman Catholic Church.
Now, which of all these varied churches is the one Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? All claim to be the Church of Jesus.
But, my dear beloved people, it is evident no church can be the Church of Jesus except the one that was established by Jesus. And when did Jesus establish His Church? When? When He was here upon earth. And how long ago is it that Christ was on earth? You know our Christian era dates from Him. He was born many centuries ago. That is an historical fact admitted by all. He lived on earth thirty-three years. That was about nineteen centuries before our time. That is the time Christ established His Church on earth. Any Church, then, that has not existed thus long, is not the Church of Jesus Christ, but is the institution or invention of some man or other; not of God, not of Christ, but of man.
Now, where is the Church, and which is the Church that has existed thus long? All history informs you that it is the Catholic Church; She, and She only among all Christian denominations on the face of the earth, has existed so long. All history, I say, bears testimony to this; not only Catholic history, but Pagan history, Jewish history, and Protestant history, indirectly.
The history, then, of all nations, of all people, bears testimony that the Catholic Church is the oldest, the first; is the one established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
If there be any Protestant preacher who can prove that the Catholic Church has come into existence since that time let him come to see me, and I will give him a thousand dollars. My dear preachers, here is the chance of making money; a thousand dollars for you.
Not only all history, but all the monuments of antiquity bear testimony to this, and all nations of the earth proclaim it. Call on one of your preachers and ask him which was the first church, the first Christian Church. Was it Presbyterian, the Episcopalian, the Church of England, the Methodist, the Universalist or the Unitarian? And they will answer you it was the Catholic Church.
But, my dear friend, if you admit that the Catholic Church is the first and oldest, the Church established by Christ, why are you not a Catholic? To this they answer that the Catholic Church has become corrupted; has fallen into error, and that, therefore, it was necessary to establish a new church. A new church, a new religion.
And to this we answer: that if the Catholic Church had been once the True Church, then She is True yet, and shall be the True Church of God to the end of time, or Jesus Christ has deceived us.
Hear me, Jesus, here what I say! I say that if the Catholic Church now, in the nineteenth century, is not the True Church of God as she was 1854 years ago, then I say, Jesus, Thou has deceived us, and Thou art an impostor! And if I do not speak the truth, Jesus, strike me dead in this pulpit, let me fall dead in this pulpit, for I do not want to be a preacher of a false religion!
I will prove what I have said. If the Catholic Church has been once the True Church of God, as is admitted by all, then She is the True Church yet, and shall be the True Church of God until the end of time, for Christ has promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church. He says that He has built it upon a rock, and that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.
Now, my dear people, if the Catholic Church has fallen into error, then the gates of hell have prevailed against her; and if the gates of hell have prevailed against her, the Christ has not kept His promise, then He has deceived us, and if He has deceived us, the He is an impostor! If He be an impostor, then He is not God, and if He be not God, then all Christianity is a cheat and in imposition.
Again, in St. Matthew, 28th chapter and verses nineteen and twenty, our Divine Savior says to His Apostles: "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." "Lo," says He, "I, Jesus, the Son of the Living God, I, the Infinite Wisdom, the Eternal Truth, am with you all days, even until the end of the world."
Christ, then, solemnly swears that He shall be with His Church all days to the end of time, to the consummation of the world. But Christ cannot remain with the Church that teaches error, or falsehood, or corruption. If, therefore, the Catholic Church has fallen into error and corruption, as our Protestant friends say She has, then Christ must have abandoned Her; if so, He has broken His oath; if He has broken His oath He is a perjurer, and there is no Christianity at all. Again, our Divine Savior (St. John, 14th chapter), has promised that He would send to His Church the Spirit of truth, to abide with Her forever. If, then, the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, teaches the Church all Truth, and teaches her all Truth forever, then there never has been, and never can be, one single error in the Church of God, for where there is all Truth, there is no error whatsoever.
Christ has solemnly promised that He will send to the Church the Spirit of Truth, who shall teach all Truth forever; therefore, there has never been a single error in the Church of God, or Christ has failed in His promise if there has.
Again, Christ commands us to hear and believe the teachings of the Church in all things; at all times and in all places. He does not say hear the Church for a thousand years or for fifteen hundred years, but hear the Church, without any limitation, without any reservation, or any restriction of time whatever. That is, at all times; in all things until the end of time, and he that does not hear the Church let him be unto thee, says Christ, as a heathen and as a publican. Therefore, Christ says that those who refuse to hear the Church must be looked upon as heathens; and what is a heathen? One that does not worship the True God; and a publican is a public sinner. This is strong language. Could Christ command me to believe the Church if the Church could have lead me astray could lead me into error? If the teaching of the Church be corrupt, could He, the God of Truth, command me without any restriction or limitation to hear and believe the teachings of the Church which He established?
Again: Our Divine Savior commands me to hear and believe the teachings of the Church in the same manner as if He Himself were to speak to us. "He that heareth you," says He, in His charge to the Apostles, "heareth Me, and he that despiseth you despiseth Me." So then, when I believe what the Church teaches I believe what God teaches.
If I refuse what the Church teaches I refuse what God teaches. So that Christ has made the Church the organ by which He speaks to man, and tells us positively that we must believe the teaching of the Church as if He Himself were to speak to us.
Therefore, says St. Paul, in his Epistle to Timothy, "the Church is the ground", that is, the strong foundation "and pillar of the Truth." Take the ground or foundation of this edifice away, and it crumbles down; so with regard to these pillars upon which the roof rests; take them away and the roof will fall in; so St. Paul says, "The Church is the ground and the pillar of Truth," and the moment you take away the authority of the Church of God you induce all kinds of errors and blasphemous doctrines. Do we not see it?
In the sixteenth century Protestantism did away with the authority of the Church and constituted every man his own judge of the Bible, and what was the consequence? Religion upon religion, church upon church, sprang into existence, and has never stopped springing up new churches to this day. When I gave my mission in Flint, Michigan, I invited, as I have done here, my Protestant friends to come and see me. A good and intelligent man came to me and said:
"I will avail myself of this opportunity to converse with you."
"What Church do you belong to, my friend," said I.
"To the Church of the Twelve Apostles," said he.
"Ha! ha!" said I, "I belong to that Church, too. But, tell me, my friend, where was your Church started?"
"In Terre Haute, Indiana," says he.
"Who started the Church, and who were the Twelve Apostles, my friend?" said I.
"They were twelve farmers," said he; "we all belonged to the same Church, the Presbyterian, but we quarreled with our preacher, separated from him, and started a Church of our own."
"And that," said I, "is the Twelve Apostles you belonged to, twelve farmers of Indiana! The Church came into existence about thirty years ago."
A few years ago, When I was in Terre Haute, I asked to be shown the Church of the Twelve Apostles. I was taken to a window and it was pointed out to me, "but it is not in existence any more," said my informant, "it is used as a wagon maker's shop now."
Again, St. Paul, in his Epistles to the Galatians, says: "Though we Apostles, or even an angel of light were to come and preach to you a different Gospel from what we have preached, let him be anathema." That is the language of St. Paul, because, my dearly beloved people, religion must come from God, not from man. No man has a right to establish a religion; no man has a right to dictate to his fellow man what he shall believe and what he shall do to save his soul. Religion must come from God, and any religion that is not established by God is a false religion, and a human institution, and not an institution of God; and therefore did St. Paul say in his Epistles to the Galatians, "Though we Apostles, or even an angel of light were to come and preach to you a different Gospel from what we have preached, let him be anathema."
You see, then, my dearly beloved people, from the text of the Scripture I have quoted that, if the Catholic Church has once been the True Church, then She is yet the True Church.
You have also seen from what I have said that the Catholic Church is the institution of God, and not of man, and this is a fact, a fact of history, and no fact of history is so well supported, so well proved, as that the Catholic Church is the first, the Church established by Jesus Christ.
So, in like manner, it is an historical fact that all the Protestant churches are the institutions of man, every one of them. And I will give you their dates, and the names of their founders or instituters.
In the year 1520, 368 years ago, the first Protestant came into the world. Before that one there was not a Protestant in the world, not one on the face of the whole earth; and that one, as all history tells us, was Martin Luther, who was a Catholic Priest, who fell away from the Church through pride, and married a nun. He was excommunicated from the Church, cut off, banished, and made a new religion of his own.
Before Martin Luther there was not a Protestant in the world; he was the first to raise the standard of rebellion and revolt against the Church of God. He said to his disciples that they should take the Bible for their guide, and they did so. But they soon quarreled with him, Zwingli, and a number of others, and every one of them started a new religion of his own.
After the disciples of Martin Luther came John Calvin, who in Geneva established the Presbyterian religion, and hence, almost all of those religions go by the name of their founder.
I ask the Protestant, "Why are you a Lutheran, my friend?"
"Well, says he, "because I believe in the doctrine of Martin Luther."
Hence, not of Christ, but of man, Martin Luther. And what kind of man was he? A man who had broken the solemn oath he had made at the altar of God, at his ordination, ever to lead a pure, single, and virginal life. He broke that solemn oath, and married a Sister Catherine, who had also taken the same oath of chastity and virtue. And this was the first founder of Protestantism in the world. The very name by which they are known tells you they came from Martin Luther.
So. The Presbyterians are sometimes called Calvinists because they come from, or profess to believe in, John Calvin.
After them came Henry VIII. He was a Catholic, and defended the Catholic religion; he wrote a book against Martin Luther in defense of the Catholic doctrine. That book I have myself seen in the library of the Vatican at Rome a few years ago. Henry VIII defended the religion, and for doing so was titled by the Pope "Defender of the Faith." It came down with his successors, and Queen Victoria inherits it today. He was married to Catherine of Aragon; but there was at his court a maid of honor to the Queen, named Ann Boleyn, who was a beautiful woman, and captivating in appearance. Henry was determined to have her. But he was a married man. He put in a petition to the Pope to be allowed to marry her; and a foolish petition it was, for the Pope had no power to grant the prayer of it. The Pope and all the bishops of the world cannot go against the will of God. Christ says: "If a man putteth away his wife and marrieth another, he committeth adultery, and he that marrieth her who is put away committeth adultery also."
As the Pope would not grant the prayer of Henry's petition he took Ann Boleyn anyhow, and was excommunicated from the Church.
After awhile there was another maid of honor prettier than the first, more beautiful and charming in the eyes of Henry, and he said he must have her, too. He took the third wife, and a fourth, fifth and sixth followed. Now this is the founder of the Anglican Church, the Church of England; and, therefore, it is that it goes by the name of the Church of England.
Our Episcopalian friends are making great efforts nowadays to call themselves Catholic, but they shall never come to it. They own that the name Catholic is a glorious one, and they would like to possess it. The Apostles said: "I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church"; they never said, in the Anglican Church. The Anglicans deny their religion, for they say they believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church. Ask them if they are Catholics, and they say, "Yes, but not Roman Catholics; we are English Catholics." What is the meaning of the word Catholic? It comes from the Greek word Catholicus; universal, spread all over the earth, and everywhere the same. Now, first of all, the Anglican Church is not spread all over the earth; it only exists in a few countries, and chiefly only where the English language is spoken. Secondly, they are not the same all over the earth, for there are now four different Anglican churches; the Low Church, the High Church, the Ritualist Church and the Puseyite Church. Catholicus means more than this, not only spread all over the earth and everywhere the same, but it means, moreover, at all times the same, from Christ up to the present day. Now, then, they have not been in existence from the time of Christ. There never was an Episcopalian Church or an Anglican Church before Henry VIII. The Catholic Church had already existed fifteen hundred years before the Episcopal came into the world.
After Episcopalianism different other churches sprang up. Next came the Methodist, about one hundred and fifty years ago. It was started by John Wesley, who was at first a member of the Episcopalian Church; subsequently he joined the Moravian Brethren, but not liking them, he maid a religion of his own, the Methodist Church.
After John Wesley several others sprang up; and finally came the Campbellites, about sixty years ago. This Church was established by Alexander Campbell, a Scotchman.
Well, now, my dear beloved people, you may think that the act of the "twelve apostles" of Indiana was a ridiculous one, but they had as much right to establish a church as had Henry VIII, or Martin Luther, or John Calvin. They had no right at all, and neither had Henry VIII, or the rest of them any right whatsoever.
Christ had established His Church and given His solemn oath that His Church should stand to the end of time: He promised that He had built it upon a rock, and that the gates of hell should never prevail against it; hence, my dear people, all those different denominations of religion are the invention of man; and I ask you can a man save the soul of his fellow man by any institution he can make? Must not religion come from God?
And, therefore, my dearly beloved separated brethren, think over it seriously. You have a soul to be saved, and that soul must be saved or damned; either one or the other, it will dwell with God in heaven or with the devil in hell; therefore, seriously meditate upon it.
When I gave my Mission in Brooklyn several Protestants became Catholics. Among them there was a very highly educated and intelligent Virginian. He was a Presbyterian. After he had listened to my lecture he went to see his minister, and he asked him to be kind enough to explain a text of the Bible. The minister gave him the meaning. "Well, now," said the gentleman, "are you positive and sure that is the meaning of the text, for several other Protestants explain it differently?" "Why, my dear young man," says the preacher, "we never can be certain of our faith." "Well, then," says the young man, "good-bye to you: If I cannot be sure of my faith in the Protestant church, I will go where I can." And he became a Catholic.
We are sure of our Faith in the Catholic Church, and if our Faith is not true, Christ has deceived us. I would, therefore, beg you, my separated brethren, to procure for yourselves Catholic Books. You have read a great deal against the Catholic Church, now read something in favor of it. You can never pass an impartial sentence if you do not hear both sides of the question.
What would you think of a judge before whom a policeman would bring a poor offender, and who on the charge of the policeman, without hearing the prisoner, would order him to be hung? "Give me a hearing," says the poor man, "and I will prove my innocence. I am not guilty," says he. The policeman says he is guilty. "Well, hang him anyhow," says the judge. What would you say of that judge? Criminal judge! Unfair man; you are guilty of the blood of the innocent! Would not you say that? Of course you would.
Well now, my dearly beloved Protestant friends, that is what you have been doing all along; you have been hearing one side of the question and condemning us Catholics as a superstitious lot of people, going and telling their sins to the priest; and what, after all, is the priest more than any other man? My dear friends, have you examined the other side of the question?
No, you do not think it worth your while; but this is the way the Jews dealt with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and this is the way the Pagans and Jews dealt with the Apostles, the ministers of the Church, and with the primitive Christians.
Allow me to tell you, my friends, that you have been treating us precisely in the same way the Jews and Pagans treated Jesus Christ and His Apostles. I have said this evening hard things, but if St. Paul were here tonight, in this pulpit, he would have said harder things still. I have said them, however, not through a spirit of unkindness, but through a spirit of love, and a spirit of charity, in the hope of opening your eyes that your souls my be saved. It is love for your salvation, my dearly beloved Protestant brethren, for which I would gladly give my heart's blood; my love for your salvation that has made me preach to you as I have done.
"Well," say my Protestant friends, "if a man thinks he is right would he not be right?" Let us suppose now a man in Ottawa, who wants to go to Chicago, but takes a car for New York; the conductor asks for his ticket; and he at once says: "You are in the wrong car; your ticket is for Chicago, but you are going to New York." "Well, what of that?" Says the passenger. "I mean well." "Your meaning will not go well with you in the end," says the conductor, "for you will come out at New York instead of Chicago."
You say you mean well, my dear friends; your meaning will not take you to heaven; you must do well also. "He that doeth the will of My Father," says Jesus, "he alone shall be saved." There are millions in hell who meant well.
You must do well, and be sure you are doing well, to be saved. I thank my separated brethren for their kindness in coming to these controversial lectures. I hope I have said nothing to offend them. Of course, it would be nonsense for me not to preach Catholic Doctrines.
The following sermon is as relevant today as it was over 100 years ago when it was first preached by Father Arnold Damen, S.J. That Father Damen's message was and still is a challenge to the many who pride themselves "Bible-and-Bible-alone Christians" is evident from the title, "The Church or the Bible."
"One cannot have God for his Father, who will not have the Church for his Mother," and likewise one cannot have the Word of God for his faith who will not have the Church for his teacher. It is the infallible teaching authority of the Church, as promised by Christ, which alone preserves God's word from erroneous interpretation. This is the essence of the zealous priest's doctrine. It is also the essence of true Christianity, as Father Damen amply proves from Scripture itself and from just plain common sense.
Every sincere Bible reader deserves to know the true relation God has established between His Church and Holy Scripture. We, therefore, invite all who love the Bible to read Father Damen's exposition with an open mind, lest while reading the Scriptures "they wrest them to their own destruction." (2 Peter 3:16)
Dearly Beloved Christians:-- When Our Divine Savior sent His Apostles and His Disciples throughout the whole universe to preach the Gospel to every creature, He laid down the conditions of salvation thus: "He that believeth and is Baptized," said the Son of the Living God, "shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned." (Mark 16:16). Here, then, Our Blessed Lord laid down the two conditions of salvation: Faith and Baptism. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be condemned -- or is damned. Hence, then, two conditions of salvation: Faith and Baptism. I will speak this evening on the condition of Faith.
We must have Faith in order to be saved, and we must have Divine Faith, not human faith. Human faith will not save a man, but only Divine Faith. What is Divine Faith? It is to believe, upon the authority of God, all the Truths that God has revealed; that is Divine Faith. To believe all that God has taught upon the authority of God, and to believe without doubting, without hesitating; for the moment you commence to doubt or hesitate; that moment you commence to distrust the authority of God, and, therefore, insult God by doubting His Word. Divine Faith, therefore, is to believe without doubting, without hesitating. Human faith is when we believe a thing upon the authority of men -- on human authority. That is human Faith. But Divine Faith is to believe without hesitating, whatsoever God has revealed upon the authority of God, upon the Word of God.
Therefore, my dear people, it is not a matter of indifference what religion a man professes, providing he be a good man.
You hear it said nowadays in this Nineteenth Century of little faith that it matters not what religion a man professes, providing he be a good man. That is heresy, my dear people, and I will prove it to you to be such. If it be a matter of indifference what a man believes, providing he be a good man, why then it is useless for God to make any revelation whatever. If a man is at liberty to reject what God revealeth, what use for Christ to send out His Apostles and disciples to teach all nations, if those nations are at liberty to believe or reject the teachings of the Apostles or disciples? You see at once that this would be insulting God.
If God reveals a thing or teaches a thing, He means to be believed. He wants to be believed whenever He teaches or reveals a thing. Man is bound to believe whatsoever God has revealed, for, my dear people, we are bound to worship God, both with our reason and intellect, as well as with our heart and will. God is master of the whole man. He claims his will, his heart, his reason, and his intellect.
Where is the man in his reason, no matter what denomination, church, or religion he belongs to, that will deny that we are bound to believe what God has taught? I am sure there is not a Christian who will deny that we are bound to believe whatsoever God has revealed. Therefore, it is not a matter of indifference what religion a man professes. He must profess that true religion if he would be saved.
But what is the true religion? To believe all that God has taught. I am sure that even my Protestant friends will admit this is right; for, if they do not, I would say they are no Christians at all.
"But what is the true Faith?"
"The true Faith," say Protestant friends, "is to believe in the Lord Jesus."
Agreed, Christians believe in that. Tell me what you mean by believing in the Lord Jesus?
"Why you must believe that he is the Son of the Living God."
Agreed again. Thanks be to God, we can agree on something. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God, that He is God. To this we all agree, excepting the Unitarians and Socinians, but we will leave them alone tonight. If Christ be God, then we must believe all He teaches. Is this not so, my dearly beloved Protestant brethren and sisters? And that's the right Faith, isn't it ?
"Well, yes," says my Protestant friend "I guess that is the right Faith. To believe that Jesus is the Son of the Living God we must believe all that Christ has taught."
We Catholics say the same, and here we agree again. Christ, then, we must believe, We must believe all that Christ has taught-that God has revealed-and, without that Faith there is no salvation; without that Faith there is no hope of Heaven; without that Faith there is eternal damnation! We have the words of Christ for it: "He that believeth not shall be condemned," says Christ.
But if Christ, my dearly beloved people, commands me under pain of eternal damnation to believe all that He has taught, He must give me the means to know what He has taught.
If, therefore, Christ commands me upon pain of eternal damnation, He is bound to give me the means of knowing what He has taught. And the means Christ gives us of knowing this must have been at all times within the reach of all people.
Secondly, the means that God gives us to know what He has taught must be a means adapted to the capacities of all intellects -- even the dullest. For even those of the dullest of understandings have a right to salvation, and consequently they have a right to the means whereby they shall learn the truths that God has taught, that they may believe them and be saved.
The means that God gives us to know what he has taught must be an infallible means. For if it be a means that can lead us astray , it can be no means at all. It must be an infallible means, so that if a man makes use of that means, he will infallibly, without fear of mistake or error, be brought to a knowledge of all the truths that God has taught.
I don't think there can be anyone present here -- I care not what he is, a Christian or an unbeliever -- who can object to my premises. And these premises are the groundwork of my discourse and of all my reasoning, and therefore, I want you to bear them in mind. I will repeat them, for on these premises rests all the strength of my discourse and reasoning.
If God commands me under pain of eternal damnation to believe all that He has taught, He is bound to give me the means to know what He has taught. And the means that God gives me must have been at all times within the reach of all people- must be adapted to the capacities of all intellects, must be an infallible means to us, so that if a man makes use of it he will be brought to a knowledge of all the truths that God has taught.
Has God given us such means? "Yes," say my Protestant friends, "He has." And so says the Catholic: God has given us such a means. What is the means God has given us whereby we shall learn the Truth that God has revealed? "The Bible," says my Protestant friends, "the Bible, the whole of the Bible, and nothing but the Bible." But we Catholics say, "No; not the Bible and its private interpretation, but the Church of the Living God."
I will prove the facts, and I defy all my separated brethren -- and all the preachers into the bargain -- to disprove what I will say tonight. I say, then, it is not the private interpretation of the Bible that has been appointed by God to be the teacher of man, but the Church of the living God.
For, my dear people, if God has intended that man should learn His (God's) religion from a book -- the Bible -- surely God would have given that book to man; Christ would have given that book to man. Did He do it? He did not. Christ sent His Apostles throughout the whole universe and said: "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."
Christ did not say, "Sit down and write Bibles and scatter them over the earth, and let every man read his Bible and judge for himself." If Christ had said that, there would never have been a Christianity on the earth at all, but a Babylon and confusion instead, and never one Church, the union of one body. Hence, Christ never said to His Apostles, "Go and write Bibles and distribute them, and let everyone judge for himself." That injunction was reserved for the Sixteenth Century, and we have seen the result of it. Ever since the Sixteenth Century there have been springing up religion upon religion, and churches upon churches, all fighting and quarreling with one another. And all because of private interpretation of the Bible.
Christ sent His Apostles with the authority to teach all nations, and never gave them any command of writing the Bible. And the Apostles went forth and preached everywhere, and planted the Church of God throughout the earth, but never thought of writing.
The first word written was by St. Matthew (a Catholic), and he wrote for the benefit of a few individuals. He wrote the Gospel about seven years after Christ left this earth, so that the Church of God, established by Christ, existed seven years before a line was written of the New Testament.
St. Mark (also a Catholic) wrote about ten years after Christ left this earth; St. Luke (another Catholic) about twenty-five years, and St. John (still another Catholic) about sixty-three years after Christ had established the Church of God. St. John wrote the last portion of the Bible -- the Book of the Apocalypse (or Revelation as the Protestants call it) -- about sixty-five years after Christ had left this earth and the Church of God had been established. The Catholic religion had existed sixty-five years before the Bible was completed, before it was written.
Now, I ask you, my dearly beloved separated brethren, were these Christian people, who lived during the period between the establishment of the Church of Jesus and the finishing of the Bible, were they really Christians, good Christians, enlightened Christians? Did they know the religion of Jesus? Where is the man that will dare to say that those who lived from the time that Christ went up to Heaven to the time that the Bible was completed were not Christians? It is admitted on all sides, by all denominations, that they were the very best of Christians, the first fruit of the Blood of Jesus Christ.
But how did they know what they had to do to save their souls? Was it from the Bible that they learned it? No, because the Bible had yet to be written. And would our Divine Savior have left His Church for sixty-five years without a teacher of man? Most assuredly not.
Were the Apostles Christians, I ask you, my dear Protestant friends? You say, "Yes, sir; they were the very founders of Christianity." Now, my dear friends, none of the Apostles ever read the Bible; not one of them except, perhaps, Saint John. For all of them had died martyrs for the Faith of Jesus Christ and never saw the cover of a Bible. Every one of them died martyrs and heroes for the Church of Jesus before the Bible was completed
How, then, did those Christians that lived in the first sixty-five years after Christ ascended -- how did they know what they had to do to save their souls? They knew it precisely the same way that you know it, my dear Catholic friends. You know it from the teaching of the Church of God, and so did the primitive Christians know it.
Not only sixty-five years did Christ leave the Church He had established without a Bible, but over three hundred years. The Church of God was established and went on spreading itself over the whole globe without a Bible for more than three hundred years. In all that time the people did not know what constituted the Bible.
In the days of the Apostles there were many false gospels. There was the Gospel of Simon, the Gospel of Nicodemus, of Mary, of Barnabas, and the Gospel of the infancy of Jesus. All of these gospels were spread among the people, and the people did not know which of these were inspired and which were false and spurious. Even the learned themselves were disputing whether preference should be given to the Gospel of Simon or that of Matthew -- to the Gospel of Nicodemus or the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Mary or that of Luke, the Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus or the Gospel of St. John the Evangelist.
And so it was in regard to the epistles: Many spurious epistles were written, and the people were at a loss for over three hundred years to know which was false or spurious, or which inspired. And, therefore, they did not know what constituted the books of the Bible.
It was not until the Fourth Century that the Pope of Rome, the Head of the Church, the successor of Saint Peter, assembled together the Bishops of the world in a council. And there in that council it was decided that the Bible, as we Catholics now have it, is the Word of God, and that the Gospels of Simon, Nicodemus, Mary, the Infancy of Jesus, and Barnabas, and all those other epistles were spurious or, at least, un-authentic; at least, that there was no evidence of their inspiration, and that the Gospels of Saints Luke, Matthew, Mark and John, and the Book of the Apocalypse (Revelation), were inspired by the Holy Ghost.
Up to that time the whole world for three hundred years did not know what the Bible was (Note: The Catholics at that time did know about the Old Testament, but there was no New Testament in existence. DB); hence, they could not take the Bible for their guide, for they did not know what constituted the Bible. Would our Divine Savior, if He intended man to learn his religion from a book, have left the Christian world for three hundred years without that book? Most assuredly not.
Not only for three hundred years was the world left without the Bible, but for one thousand four hundred years the Christian world was left without the Sacred Book.
Before the art of printing was invented, Bibles were rare things; Bibles were costly things. Now, you must all be aware, if you have read history at all, that the art of printing was invented only a little more than four hundred years ago (Note: Four hundred years as of this writing; late 19th Century) -- about the middle of the Fifteenth Century -- and about one hundred years before there was a single Protestant in the world.
As I have said, before printing was invented books were rare and costly things. Historians tell us that in the Eleventh Century -- eight hundred years ago -- Bibles were so rare and costly that it took a fortune, a considerable fortune, to buy oneself a copy of the Bible! Before the art of printing, everything had to be done with the pen upon parchment or sheepskin. It was, therefore, a tedious and slow operation -- a costly operation.
Now, in order to arrive at the probably cost of a Bible at that time, let us suppose that a man should work ten years to make a copy of the Bible and earn a dollar a day. Well, then, the cost of that Bible would be nearly $3,650! Now, let us suppose that a man should work at the copying of the Bible for twenty years, as historians say it would have taken him that long, not having the conveniences and improvements to aid him that we have now. Then, at a dollar a day, for twenty years, the cost of a Bible would be nearly $8,000.
Suppose I came and said to you, "My dear people, save your soul, for if you lose your soul all is lost." You would ask, "What are we to do to save your souls?" The Protestant preacher would say to you, "You must get a Bible; you can get one at such-and-such a shop." You would ask the cost, and be told it was $8,000. You would exclaim: "The Lord save us! And can we not go to Heaven without that book?" The answer would be: "No, you must have the Bible and read it." You murmur at the price, but are asked, "is not your soul worth $8,000?" Yes, of course it is, but you say you do not have the money, and if you cannot get a Bible, and our salvation depends upon it, evidently you would have to remain outside the Kingdom of Heaven. This would be a hopeless condition, indeed.
For fourteen hundred years the world was left without a Bible -- not one in ten thousand, not one in twenty thousand, before the art of printing was invented, had the Bible. And would our Divine Lord have left the world without that book if it was necessary to man's salvation? Most assuredly not.
But let us suppose for a moment that all had Bibles, that Bibles were written from the beginning, and that every man, woman, and child had a copy. What good would that book be to people who did not know how to read it? It is a blind thing to such persons.
Even now one-half the inhabitants of the earth cannot read. Moreover, as the Bible was written in Greek and Hebrew, it would be necessary to know these languages in order to be able to read it.
But it is said that we have a translation now in French, English, and other languages of the day. Yes, but are you sure you have a faithful translation? If not, you have not the Word of God. If you have a false translation, it is the work of man. How shall you ascertain that? How shall you find out if you have a faithful translation from the Greek and Hebrew?
"I do not know Greek or Hebrew," says my separated friend; "for my translation I must depend upon the opinion of the learned."
Well, then, dear friends, suppose the learned should be divided in their opinions, and some of them should say it is good, and some false? Then your faith is gone; you must commence doubting and hesitating, because you do not know if the translation is good.
Now with regard to the Protestant translation of the Bible, allow me to tell you that the most learned among Protestants tell you that your translation -- the King James edition -- is a very faulty translation and is full of errors. Your own learned divines, preachers, and bishops have written whole volumes to point out all the errors that are there in the King James translation, and Protestants of various denominations acknowledge it.
Some years ago, when I lived in St. Louis, there was held in that city a convention of ministers. All denominations were invited, the object being to arrange for a new translation of the Bible, and give it to the world. The proceedings of the convention were published daily in the Missouri Republican. A very learned Presbyterian, I think it was, stood up, and, urging the necessity of giving a new translation of the Bible, said that in the present Protestant translation of the Bible there were no less than thirty thousand errors.
And you say, my dear Protestant friends, that the Bible is your guide and teacher. What a teacher, with thirty thousand errors! The Lord save us from such a teacher! one error is bad enough, but thirty thousand is a little too much.
Another preacher stood up in the convention -- I think he was a Baptist -- and, urging the necessity of giving a new translation of the Bible, said for thirty years past the world was without the word of God, for the Bible we have is not the Word of God at all.
Here are your own preachers for you. You all read the newspapers, no doubt, my friends, and must know what happened in England a few years ago. A petition was sent to parliament for an allowance of a few thousand pounds sterling for the purpose of getting up a new translation of the Bible. And that movement was headed and carried on by Protestant bishops and clergymen.
But, my dear people, how can you be sure of your faith? You say the Bible is your guide, but you do not know if you have it. Let us suppose for a moment that all should have a Bible. Should all read it and have a faithful translation, even then it cannot be the guide of man, because the private interpretation of the Bible is not infallible, but, on the contrary, most fallible. it is the source and fountain of all kinds of errors and heresies, and all kinds of blasphemous doctrines. Do not be shocked, my dear friends; just be calm and listen to my arguments.
There are now throughout the world three hundred and fifty different denominations or churches [in Fr. Damen's time - over 30,000 now], and all of them say the Bible is their guide and teacher. And we'll suppose they are all sincere. Are all of them true churches? This is an impossibility. Truth is one as God is one, and there can be no contradiction. Every man in his senses sees that every one of them cannot be true, for they differ and contradict one another, and cannot, therefore, be all true. The Protestants say the man that reads the Bible right and prayerfully has Truth, and they all say that they read it right.
Let us suppose that here is an Episcopalian minister. He is (just for the sake of argument) a sincere, an honest, a well-meaning and prayerful man. He reads his Bible in a prayerful spirit, and from the Word of the Bible, he says it is clear that there must be bishops. For without bishops there can be no priests, without priests no Sacraments, and without Sacraments no Church. The Presbyterian is a sincere and well meaning man. He reads the Bible also, and deduces that there should be no bishops, but only presbyters. "Here is the Bible," says the Episcopalian; and "here is the Bible to give you a lie," says the Presbyterian. Yet both of them are prayerful and well-meaning men.
Then the Baptist comes in. He is (again for the sake of argument) a well-meaning, honest man, and prayerful also. "Well," says the Baptist, "have you ever been baptized?" "I was," says the Episcopalian, "when I was a baby."
"And so was I," says the Presbyterian, "when I was a baby." "But," says the Baptist, "you are going to Hell as sure as you live."
Next comes the Unitarian, (presumably) well-meaning, honest, and sincere. "Well," says the Unitarian, "allow me to tell you that you are a pack of idolaters. You worship a man for a God who is no God at all." And he gives several texts from the Bible to prove it, while the others are stopping their ears that they may not hear the blasphemies of the Unitarian. And they all contend that they have the true meaning of the Bible.
Next comes the Methodist, and he says, "My friends, have you got any religion at all?" "Of course we have," they say. "Did you ever feel religion," says the Methodist, "the Spirit of God moving within you?" "Nonsense," says the Presbyterian, "we are guided by our reason and judgment." "Well," says the Methodist, "if you have never felt religion, you never had it, and will go to Hell for eternity."
The Universalist next comes in, and hears them threatening one another with eternal hellfire. "Why," says he, "you are a strange set of people. Do you not understand the Word of God? There is no Hell at all. That idea is good enough to scare old women and children," and he proves it from the Bible.
Now comes in the Quaker. He urges them not to quarrel, and advises that they do not baptize at all. He is the sincerest of men (not really, but for argument's sake), and gives the Bible for his faith.
Another comes in and says: "Baptize the men and let the women alone. For the Bible says, 'unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.' So," says he, "the women are all right, but baptize the men."
Next comes in the Shaker, and says he: "You are a presumptuous people. Do you not know that the Bible tells you that you must work out your salvation in fear and trembling, and you do not tremble at all. My brethren, if you want to go to heaven shake, brother, shake!"
I have brought together seven or eight denominations, differing one from another, or understanding the Bible in different ways, illustrative of the fruits of private interpretation. What, then, if I brought together the three hundred and fifty different denominations, all taking the Bible for their guide and teaching, and all differing from one another? Are they all right? One says there is a Hell, and another says there is no Hell. Are both right? One says Christ is God; another says He is not. One says they are unessential. One says Baptism is requisite, and another says it is not. Are both true? This is an impossibility, my dear friends; all cannot be true.
Who, then, is true? He that has the true meaning of the Bible, you say. But the Bible does not tell us who that is -- the Bible never settles the quarrel. It is not the teacher.
The Bible, my dear people, is a good book. We Catholics allow that the Bible is the Word of God, the language of inspiration, and every Catholic is exhorted to read the Bible. But good as it is, the Bible, my dear friends, does not explain itself. It is a good book, the Word of God, the language of inspiration. Your understanding of the Bible is not inspired -- for surely you do not pretend to be inspired!
Now, then, what is the teaching of the Church on the subject? The Catholic Church says the Bible is the Word of God, and that God has appointed an authority to give us the true meaning.
It is with the Bible as it is with the Constitution of the United States. When Washington and his associates established the Constitution and the Supreme law of the United States, they did not say to the people of the States: "Let every man read the Constitution and make a government unto himself; let every man make his own explanation of the Constitution." If Washington had done that, there never would have been a United States. The people would all have been divided among themselves, and the country would have been cut up into a thousand different divisions or governments.
What did Washington do? He gave the people the Constitution
and the Supreme Law, and appointed his Supreme Court and Supreme Judge
of the Constitution. And these are to give the true explanation of the
Constitution to all the citizens of America --
all without exception,
from the President to the beggar. All are bound to go by the decisions
of the Supreme Court, and it is this and this alone that can keep the people
together and preserve the union of the United States. The moment the people
take the interpretation of the Constitution into their own hands, that
moment there is an end of union.
And so it is in every government -- so it is here and everywhere. There is a Constitution, a Supreme Court or Law, a Supreme Judge of that Constitution, and that Supreme Court is to give us the meaning of the Constitution and the Law.
In every well-ruled country there must be such a thing as this -- a Supreme Law, Supreme Court, Supreme Judge, that all the people abide by. There is in every country a Supreme Law, Supreme Court, Supreme Judge; and all are bound by decisions, and without that no government could stand. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Even among the Indian tribes such a condition of affairs exists. How are they kept together? By their chief, who is their dictator.
So our Divine Savior also has established His Supreme Court -- His Supreme Judge -- to give us the true meaning of the Scriptures, and to give us the true revelation and doctrines of the Word of Jesus. The Son of the Living God has pledged His Word that this Supreme Court is infallible, and, therefore, the true Catholic never doubts.
"I believe," says the Catholic, "because the Church teaches me so. I believe the Church because God has commanded me to believe her. He said: 'Hear the Church, and he that does not hear the Church let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican.' 'He that heareth you heareth Me,' said Christ, 'and he that despiseth you despiseth Me.' "Therefore, the Catholic believes because God has spoken, and upon the authority of God.
But our Protestant friends say, "We believe in the Bible." Very well; how do you understand the Bible? "Well," says the Protestant, "to the best of my opinion and judgment this is the meaning of the text." He is not sure of it, but to the best of his opinion and judgment. This, my friends, is only the testimony of a man -- it is only human faith, not Divine Faith.
It is Divine Faith alone by which we give honor and glory to God, by which we adore His infinite wisdom and veracity, and that adoration and worship is necessary for salvation.
I have now proved to you that the private interpretation of the Scripture cannot be the guide or teacher of man.