Fr. Damen's Famous Homily...
The Church or the Bible by Fr. Arnold Damen, S.J.
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)
I. Dearly Beloved Christians: --- When our Divine
Saviour 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, 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 hesitation;
for the moment you commence to doubt or hesitate, that moment you commence to
mistrust 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 doubting,
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 matter 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, Catholics believe
in that. Tell me what you mean by believing in the Lord Jesus? "Why," says my
Protestant friend, "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, and that is the true Faith. 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.
II. 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 give 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 my 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.
III. Has God given us such means? "Yes," say my
Protestant friends, "He has." And so says the Catholic: God has given us such
means. What is the means God has given us whereby we shall learn the truth that
God has revealed? "The Bible," say 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
in 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 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 the private interpretation
of the Bible. Christ sent His Apostles with 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 Saint Matthew, 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.
Saint Mark wrote about ten years after Christ left this earth; Saint Luke about
twenty-five years, and Saint John about sixty-three years after Christ had
established the Church of God. Saint John wrote the last portion of the Bible
--- the Book of Revelation --- 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 was not written. And would our Divine Saviour
have left His Church for sixty-five years without a teacher, if the Bible is the
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
Now, my dear friends, none of the Apostles ever read the
Bible; not one of them except perhaps, Saint John. For all of then 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 in the same way that you know it, my dear
Catholic friends. You know it from the teachings of the Church of God, and so
did the primitive Christians know it.
IV. 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 the 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 Saint
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 have it now, 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,
unauthentic; 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 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; hence, they could not take the
Bible for their guide, for they did not know what constituted the Bible. Would
our Divine Saviour, if He intended man to learn his religion from a book, have
left the Christian world for three hundred years without that book? Most
V. 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 --- about the middle of the Fifteenth
Century --- and about one hundred years before there was a Protestant in the
world. As I have said, before printing was invented books were rare and costly
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 probable 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 $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 at that time, 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 our 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 your 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.
VI. 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 it translated 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, my 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.
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
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
VII. 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, and all
of them say the Bible is their guide and teacher. And I 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
Let us suppose that here is an Episcopal minister. He is 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 the lie," says the Presbyterian. Yet both of them
are prayerful and well-meaning men.
Then the Baptist comes in. He is 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,
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.
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 never felt religion, you never had it, and will go to Hell
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
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, 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, my brethren, shake!"
VIII. I have here 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
not Hell. Are both right? One says Christ is God; another says He is not. One
says they are unessential. One says Baptism is a requisite, and another says it
is not. Are both true? This is an impossibility, my 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, but your explanation of the Bible is not the language
of inspiration. Your understanding of the Bible is not inspired --- for surely
you do not pretend to be inspired! 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 American citizens
--- 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. Ad 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. Even among the Indian tribes such a condition of affairs exists.
How are they kept together? By their chief, who is their dictator.
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 believer
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 believeth you believeth 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 private interpretation of the Scripture cannot be the guide
or teacher of man. In another lecture I shall prove that the Catholic Church is
the only true Church of God, and that there is no other.
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