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. This
message was and still is a challenge to the many who pride themselves as
being "Bible-and-Bible-Only Christians."
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 Fr. Damen's sermon.
Every sincere Bible reader deserves to know the true relation God
has established between His Church and Holy Scripture. Therefore, we invite
all who love the Bible, to read Father Damen's exposition with an open mind,
lest while reading the Scriptures "... the unlearned and unstable wrest, as
they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction."
[2 Peter 3:16]
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, shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be condemned"
Here, then, Our Blessed Lord laid down the 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
begin to doubt or hesitate, that moment you begin to mistrust the authority of God,
and, therefore, insult God by doubting His word. Divine Faith, therefore, is to
believe without doubting and without hesitating. Human faith is belief upon the
authority of men, on human authority. 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, then it is useless for God to make any revelation whatever.
If a man is at liberty to reject what God revealeth, what's the 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 wants to be believed.
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, no matter what denomination, church or religion,
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 the true religion if he wants to 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
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. We must
believe all that Christ has taught, that God has revealed. Without this Faith,
there is no salvation. Without this Faith, there is no hope of Heaven. Without
this Faith, there is eternal damnation! We have the words of Christ for it,
"He that believeth not shall be condemned."
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. 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
the dullest 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,
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 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, 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
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, really Christians, good
Christians and 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 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, 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.
For not only sixty-five years did Christ leave the Church He had established
without a Bible, but for 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
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 was 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 Matthew, Mark, Luke 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 assuredly not.
Not only for three hundred years was the world left without the Bible,
but for 1,400 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
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 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
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 1,400 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
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
"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 begin 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
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
And you say, my dear Protestant friends, that the Bible is your guide
and teacher. What a teacher, with 30,000 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 cannot be sure that you have the faith. Let us suppose
for a moment that all have a Bible which is 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 350 different denominations
or churches, and all of them say the Bible is their guide and teacher. 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 it right.
Let us suppose that there is an Episcopal minister. He is a sincere,
honest, 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 idolators.
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 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
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 leave 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 he says, "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!"
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 350 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 admit 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. At the moment the people take the interpretation
of the Constitution into their own hands, there is the end of the 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
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.
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.
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." Jesus said:
"Tell the Church. And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee
as the heathen and 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. 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.