De Laicis — Saint Robert Bellarmine’s Treatise on Civil Government

Chapter 19

A third error is that of George Cassander, in his book about the duty of a pius man, where he teaches that rulers ought to find a peaceful coexistence between Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and others. But meanwhile, so long as they have not found an agreement, they ought to permit to each one his faith, provided all accept Scripture and the Apostles’ Creed. For so long as they have found no “modus vivendi,” they ought to permit to everyone his faith, provided they accept the Scripture and the Apostles’ Creed. For in this way all are members of the Church, even though they disagree over particular dogmas. Pacifiers of the past taught similar proposals, in the testimony of the Emperor Zeno. Concerning this matter, see Evagrius, Book III, Chapters 14 & 30. Likewise, Apelles, should not be debated, since it is enough to believe in the Crucified One. This is a manifest error, and against it wrote John of Louvain, of Catholic Doctors, and John Calvin, among heretics.

This opinion can be easily refuted: first of all, Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists cannot be reconciled in this manner, for in this respect they cannot agree on the Creed, for example, concerning the article, “He descended into hell,” we have the most diverse understandings; for we believe that the substance of the Soul of Christ, separated from his Body, descended to the Limbo of the Fathers; some of the heretics propose that “Christ descended into hell” means nothing else than that he was buried; others think simply that it means that “He suffered the pains of Hell.” Similarly, the article, “I believe in the Holy Church” we understand in diverse ways. And also, the “Communion of Saints” is differently understood, and there are controversies over each of the Sacraments. Finally, over the words, “the remission of sins” we differ most widely.

Cassander says it is sufficient that all confess that the Creed is true, and that we accept it.

To the contrary! The Creed in one, and faith is placed not simply in words but in their meanings. For that reason, we do not agree on the same Creed if we disagree on its interpretation. Moreover, if it were enough to accept the words of the Creed, scarcely any of the past heretics would have been rightly condemned. For the Arians, the Novatians, the Nestorians, and almost all others, accepted the words of the Apostles’ Creed, but because there was disagreement over their meaning, therefore, they were condemned and expelled from the Catholic Church.

Secondly, the basic premise of Cassander is false, for the true members of the Church cannot be called Lutherans and Calvinists even though they agree with us on the Creed, because, in addition to that faith, submission to the Head of the Church constituted by Christ and communal sharing with other members are required; for the Church is one visible body, and therefore it has a visible head and members; nor can that be called a member which is separated from a head and body. Certainly, Aerius [sic], even though he was in agreement with Catholics over the meaning of the Creed, nevertheless because he was unwilling to submit to the Bishop and remain in communion with other members, he is placed in the catalog of heretics by Epiphanius and Augustine; and Cyprian, in the second epistle of Book 4, declares that Novatian is outside the Church because he was unwilling to submit to the Pontiff Cornelius, even if he had introduced no other heresy.

Thirdly, Cassander speaks as if the only disagreements between Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists were over human rites and ceremonies; but many dogmas over which we disagree, even those not expressly stated in the Creed, are of the greatest importance, and because of them no peace between Catholics and Lutherans can be hoped for. Thus, for example, we say that the Mass is the most divine worship of God; but they declare that it is the most abhorrent of idolatries; similarly, the invocation of the Saints is for us piety, but for them impiety, et cetera.

Fourthly, the saintly Fathers of the Church have taught us that not only the Creed but all other dogmas of the faith, even though they appear minute, we are to preserve inviolate, nor may we allow them to be changed in any way for the sake of heretics. Paul says that he was unwilling to yield to false brethren even for an hour. (Galatians, II) And when the Arians once begged Catholics that they might omit just one word which is present neither in Scripture nor in the Apostles’ Creed, or that they might change just one letter, that is, that they might say not “homoousion” but “homoiousion,” and if this were done, they would promise peace: Catholics were unwilling and they wrote to the Emperor that it would be impious to change anything already defined, and that if anything of what was reasonably approved should be changed, peace would not on that account exist, nor would peace be possible among those who ignore the rights of peace. See Theodoretus, Book II of his history, chapters 18 and 19, or Trip. Book V, Chapters 21 and 33, and this was accepted as true in the Council of Ariminium [now Rimini, in Italy]; for when the more simple Catholics, deceived by the Arians, decreed that the word “homoousion” should be removed, soon the Arians all over the world preached that they had conquered, and, not content with removing the word “homoousion” and substituting for it “homoiousion,” a little later they transformed the very word “homoiousion” into “heterousion,” that is, “of dissimilar substance,” as Theodoret relates, in Book II of his history, Chapter 21.

Hence, Basil, asked by the Prefect of the Emperor Valens that he comply with the times and not allow so many churches to be troubled over a small dogma, replied: “Whoever are nourished by divine words may not allow even a single syllable of divine dogmas to be corrupted, nor even a single syllable to perish, and, in support of them, to embrace even any kind of death.” (See Theodoret, Book IV, Chapter 17, Ecclesiastical History) Endowed with the same constancy, Eustathius and Sylvanus, whom the Emperor threatened with exile, unless they removed the word “homoousian,” replied, “You have the power to punish, nevertheless, we will not destroy what has been established by the Fathers.” (See History, Tripar, Book V, Chapter 24.)

Finally, Gelasius, in a letter to Euphemius, on the petition of a heretic that the Pope condescend to them, that is, that he relax any point of Catholic Faith in the interest of peace, elegantly joked, “When, however, you say that we ought to condescend to you, you thereby show that you are descending or have already descended. Hence I ask, whence is that descent? You see, acknowledge, and do not deny that some parts have been displaced from a certain high place, from their Catholic and Apostolic communion, to a heretical and condemned position; but you also want to push those remaining on a higher position, and you invite us to descend along with you from the heights to the depths. You, rather, we beg to ascend with us from the depths to the heights.”

Fifthly, it is impossible to be free to believe in one certain dogma, without, for the same reason, to be free to believe in all of them, even in those which are contained in the Apostles’ Creed; for there is unquestionably one rule of faith, and that certain in all points that are believed, namely, the word of God as interpreted by the Church. If, therefore, I believe in the Church as it hands on to me the Apostles’ Creed, which I would not otherwise know is from the Apostles, unless the Church says it is; for the same reason I am obliged to believe that I ought to invoke the Saints, because the same Church teaches this; or if I were unable to believe this, for the same reason I cannot believe that this creed is from the apostles.

In the sixth place, that opinion of Cassander in new, and first thought up by him, as he acknowledges at the start, and therefore it ought to be held suspect. For as Vincent Lerins beautifully says, in his minor work against profane works, what is new cannot be without suspicion; since the true Faith is one and most ancient.

In the seventh place, that opinion renders the true Church altogether hidden and invisible, even more, composed of flatterers and pretenders; for Cassander says, two things are required of the true Church, faith in Christ and peace with men, and from that he deduces that those who militantly inveigh against Catholics and Lutherans do not belong to the Church, but only those who are at peace with all. Therefore, those who belong to the Church can only be hidden, both those who pretend with Catholics that they are enemies of Lutherans, and with Lutherans that they are enemies of Catholics. For Catholics cannot allow within their flock any who show by external signs that they prefer Lutherans: among Lutherans also, even though all sects are permitted in the same provinces, nevertheless no sect allows within it friends of other sects, as has been noted: therefore, those pacifist and dissembling men are all feigning and hypocritical, professing one thing orally and concealing another thing in their hearts, and like Herod who was a foreigner with foreigners, with Jews Jewish; for he erected temples both to Caesar and to God, as Josephus relates in Book XV of his Antiquities, Chapters 13 and 14.

Add what Cassander confesses, that those colleagues of his are few and hidden. But from this it appears that they cannot constitute a Church; for a Church is in the open and visible, so that it is said by the Lord (in Matthew, V) to be situated on a mountain. Finally, the true Church cannot be without shepherds (Ephesians IV); but those hidden men have no pastors nor can they have, so long as they remain hidden; consequently, they have no Church.