The Rise of Popery in America

The Popish controversy has lately assumed an aspect in our country which must render it deeply interesting to every sincere and intelligent Christian. Ten years ago, the revival of this controversy, as an object of general attention and zealous effort, would have appeared unreasonable, if not liable to the charge of something approaching to persecution. At that time, the adherents of the "Man of Sin" being regarded as not more than a 40th or 50th part of our population, and maintaining generally that silent and inoffensive course which might have been expected in the 19th century, on the part of a small minority, who at once respected their own claims and remembered what was due in a free country, to the claims and the influence of a predominant Protestant community, gave little occasion for public censure. Of late, however, the aspect of things is not a little changed. The native and well known spirit of their sect is beginning with more distinctness to disclose itself. Feeling their body strengthened by large emigrations from the old world; enabled, by rich monetary contributions from various foreign sources, to multiply and invigorate their sectarian establishments; having received, with their recent importations, a considerable increase of that vulgar ferocity which might have been anticipated from the character of those importations, and imagining that the time had come when they needed nothing but a public controversy and a confident tone to ensure their triumph; they have lately assumed an attitude and indulged in a language to which we have not hitherto been accustomed; and have even ventured in some memorable instances, after inviting discussion, to meet dignified and irresistible arguments with insolent threats or brutal violence.

Protestants Compelled to Arms

In these circumstances—when the old and well known claims of these children of Antichrist have been urged with extraordinary noise and offensiveness; when Protestants have been assailed and challenged in a manner which indicated a fixed purpose, and the largest hopes of encroachment on their ranks by proselytism—it surely became a duty to show that the "faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:4) had friends willing and able to stand forth in her defense. The controversy, as it exists in the United States, originated with the Romanists. It is of their own seeking. It ought, however, to be matter of joy, not of regret. These votaries of the mystery of iniquity have provoked Protestants to do what ought to have been done before. They have been met with a spirit and a force of argument truly gratifying to the friends of apostolic purity. But there is yet room for much more to be written and published. The battle, as I take it, is but just begun. And now that Protestants have been compelled, in fidelity to their Master in heaven, to gird on their armor, and to lift the weapons of consecrated warfare, I trust they will never be laid aside, until every family and individual in our land shall be distinctly put on their guard against the character and design of these foes of God and man. It is earnestly to be hoped, however, that all who enter the lists in this warfare will be careful with respect to the weapons which they employ. Our weapons must not, like theirs, be "carnal," but "spiritual," and these alone will be "mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). It was, therefore, with pleasure I learned that the author of the present volume1 intended to give a comprehensive view of the history of Popery. The truth is, the simple disclosure of facts is all that is necessary in this case. He who brings the corruptions of the Papacy to the test of God's unerring word, and presents a dispassionate and unvarnished history of their rise, progress, and practical influence, cannot fail of convincing candid and intelligent minds of their infectious character. All we want, under God, to effect the overthrow of this enormous mass of error and superstition is light. Let light pervade our land—let the Bible and Sabbath school be placed within the reach of every adult and every child in the United States—let pamphlets of instruction in reference to the Papacy be everywhere circulated—and let the watchmen on the walls of Zion, in the spirit of their Master, faithfully instruct and warn—and all will be well. It is only where gross ignorance, sensuality, and a willingness to be hoodwinked and deceived reign, that the Papacy can retain its power.

Multitudes of Protestants Are Ignorant of the Threat and Danger of Rome

It is deeply to be deplored that the importance of suitable attention to this controversy is not more justly appreciated by the mass of our Protestant community. There are multitudes who think that there is not the least danger of the religion of the church of Rome gaining ground in our country; and, of course, that all efforts to prevent this mischief are unnecessary. Such persons forget that, although the system of Popery is directly opposed to enlightened reason, and to the word of God, it presents very strong attractions to all those who are more fond of a splendid and gaudy ritual, than of a self-denying and spiritual religion. They forget that this system of miserable superstition has been, in all ages, the favorite resort of those who wish to bear the Christian name, and to cherish a hope of acceptance with God, without the sacrifice of a single lust. They forget that the plan of salvation revealed in the Gospel is of all proposals the most revolting to the proud heart of fallen man. They forget that the impenitent sinner is willing to undergo the heaviest drudgery of rites and ceremonies, to fast, to scourge and lacerate his body, to pay money, to submit to any prescribed penance or privation for a short time—if by these means he may be certain of gaining the heavenly paradise. These he may be, and often is willing to give for such an assurance. But to give his heart to God, to deny himself, to renounce his own righteousness in every form, to "crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24), to follow the Savior as his Prophet, Priest and King, as the Lord his righteousness, and the Lord his strength, as his justifier, his model, his life, his all—this he is not prepared to do, and cannot yield.

The System of Romanism Described

"Now to relieve this proud and impenitent mind—which is the mind of all men by nature—the Roman Catholic system comes with promises and allurements of the most fascinating kind. It meets him with a scheme of most ingenious contrivances for satisfying every doubt, and removing every difficulty—without any real holiness either of heart or life. It assures him, that if he live and die in communion with the Church of Rome, he is, of course, in real covenant and communion with Christ—that there is no need of any radical change of heart, provided he will submit to the dictation and discipline of the constituted authorities of that Church—that by the sacrament of Baptism, a priest can regenerate him, and that no other change than that which Baptism includes, need be sought or expected; that by his baptism, when regularly administered, all his sins are taken away, and he reconciled to God; that by a regular attendance on the sacrament of Penance, all his sins committed, from time to time, after baptism, may be certainly forgiven; and that by a regular confession and absolution during life, and the reception of Extreme Unction when he comes to die, he may be assured of everlasting happiness; or that, at the worst, he will only be detained for a time in Purgatory; which, however, will be made as short and light as possible, if he bequeath a handsome sum to the Church; or if his surviving friends shall pay liberally for the prayers that may be said, and the masses that may be performed for his soul.

According to this delusive system, then, a man may live and die without any real holiness, and yet, in spite of all the Scripture has so solemnly pronounced to the contrary, may be certain of seeing the Lord in peace. He need not trouble himself to read the Scriptures. The Church reads, judges, and engages for him. The Church has a stock of merit to dispose of, which, upon being properly paid for, she can set down to his account, and make available to his acceptance. So that, however multiplied and enormous his sins, and however obstinately and impenitently persisted in, to the last hour of his life, still if he submits to all the rites of the Church, and to all the penances imposed on him by the proper authority, he is certainly safe, certainly secure of salvation. Such is the openly published and miserable system of these soul-destroying deceivers. In support of all these statements, testimony of the most unequivocal kind might be adduced from Romish authorities of the highest character. We are aware, indeed, that most of the allegations above stated, have been either denied, or attempted to be explained away by ingenious apologists for Romish claims—but we are very sure that, when the whole system, taken together, is compared with its highest official vouchers, our representation will be completely born out in every particular.

— Biblical Repertory, vol. V. pp. 504-505.

In adopting the above quotation, as descriptive of the system of Romanism, no injustice is done to that system or its adherents. It is true, indeed, as the writer intimates, that several of the articles specified, are either wholly disowned, or artfully glossed over by ingenious Popish advocates, who wish to conciliate. But for every part of the statement, it is certain that high Romish authorities may be quoted; and when we go among the mass of the adherents to the Papacy, and examine the principles and confidence which they cherish, and which they are distinctly encouraged to cherish, facts are disclosed, on every side, which abundantly sustain the foregoing statement in all its extent. In fact, the whole system of the Church of Rome consists in putting a set of deified saints, and deified ceremonies in the place of Christ, as the ground of hope, while He is only nominally retained as the Savior; and, at the same time, presenting their miserable idolatry in such language, and clothing it in such an attractive, and even bewitching dress, that it bears away the ignorant and the unsuspecting with scarcely a thought of resistance.

The Threat and Danger of Romanism is Imminent

Is there no danger then, that this plausible, splendid, self-righteous system, so admirably adapted to dazzle and to captivate—is there no danger that it will deceive and lead away unwary souls? So far is this from being the case, that we may say with confidence, the danger is imminent. It is precisely that form of religious observance which best agrees with the proud, selfish and sensual nature of man. It has charms for the voluptuous, the gay, the dissipated and the worldly which scarcely anything earthly can resist. It has exactly that to offer which the 'carnal mind, which is enmity against God,' will ever be found, while it remains such, to prefer to the pure, humbling, self-renouncing, and self-sacrificing plan of salvation through a crucified Redeemer—in one word, to the 'simplicity that is in Christ.' Truly instead of considering it as wonderful that, in a Protestant land, and in the 19th century, proselytes to the Papacy are made, we ought rather to regard it as wonderful that they are not tenfold more numerous than we find them.

Can any enlightened Protestant, then, suppose that there is no need of putting his children and the community at large on their guard against this most extravagant and at the same time most insinuating and delusive of all the systems of error which bear the Christian name? When the Papists are flooding our country with their ecclesiastics, their books, and their periodical papers—when they are sagaciously erecting seminaries of imposing and highly popular character, in many districts of the United States very imperfectly, if at all, furnished with sounder ones of equal reputation—when they are artfully opening these seminaries to students on cheaper terms than most others can afford, and in some cases insidiously offering to receive Protestant children into their literary institutions free of all charge—when it is notorious that one great object of the seminaries in question is to extend and facilitate the work of making proselytes to the Papacy—when we see adults as well as children in considerable numbers, actually made the dupes and the victims of these accepted offers—and when those high in ecclesiastical authority among them are continually boasting of the number and importance of their converts—when facts of this kind are daily presented to public view—I must say, if they are not serious and awakening in their aspect, I scarcely know what ought to be so deemed. If those who are 'set for the defense of the Gospel' cannot see, and will not give warning of such facts, it is difficult to imagine what would be sufficient to rouse them to a faithful discharge of their duty. The Papists themselves speak without scruple of their proselyting projects. Archbishop Whitefield, of Baltimore, in a late report to an association in Vienna, formed for the express purpose of spreading Romanism in America, says, 'I cannot omit mentioning, that in this school, as in all the Catholic institutions for education, a large proportion of the children are Protestants; a circumstance which contributes not a little to the spread of our holy doctrine, and the removal of prejudices.' There are those, it seems, who will not believe them even on their own explicit and undisguised testimony!

Can Christians, or Christian ministers forget that this is a subject of the deepest interest to their own offspring, as well as to the whole Church of God in our land? Can they forget that those large districts in which Popery, if not resisted and exposed, may become predominant, may be hereafter the residence of their children, or their children's children, where they may be ensnared and ruined forever? Can they forget that Popery is, in its own nature, a system of tyranny over both the minds and bodies of men; that it openly sets at naught the rights of conscience; that where it reigns, it is essentially destructive of civil and religious liberty; and that, if it should ever obtain the ascendancy in our beloved country, we may bid farewell to that liberty with which it has pleased Him who 'sits as Governor among the nations' (Psalm 22:28) to make us free? Surely every feeling of natural affection, of Christian benevolence, and of enlightened patriotism should inspire an interest in this subject of the most intense character.

The Roman Catholic Church is as Bad as it has Ever Been

Let it not be said that, while Popery is, in some countries, a corrupt and corrupting system—while, for example, in Spain, in Portugal and in Italy, it holds a gloomy and a pernicious reign—it is, in the United States, a harmless thing, divested, in a great measure, if not entirely, of every formidable and threatening feature. Many Protestants are entirely deceived by impressions of this kind. They hear some plausible and artful Papist pleading the cause of his religion; denying some of the most serious imputations against it, and disguising others under the most ingenious glosses—they hear these representations, and wonder why good people should be so much prejudiced against Roman Catholics! This is an utter delusion. The spirit of the Papacy is the very same at this hour that it was when Luther took his life in his hand and went forth against the embattled hosts of superstition and sin. There can, indeed be no change without an abandonment of her essential principles. It is her glory, her votaries tell us, that she is, in all respects, the same, in the United States, and in the 19th century, that she ever was. And they say the truth. It is even so. She has undergone no essential change. Like all systems, indeed, of profound and organized falsehood, she can alter her tones, her professions, and even her aspect, at pleasure; but the moment she is placed in circumstances which allow her to act out her genuine spirit, we find it to be the very same spirit which established the Inquisition in the 12th century; which butchered the poor and pious Waldenses, in their secluded valleys, in the 15th and 17th; which, for ages, imprisoned and burnt the objects of their cupidity or resentment, without mercy; and which has never ceased, since she possessed the power, to deceive, cheat, oppress and destroy those whom she could subjugate to her will, under the pretext of conducting them to happiness here and hereafter.

And what principle or practice has the Papacy abandoned, in modern times, or in this country, which she was able to maintain? Does she not to this hour continue to assert the infallibility of the Pope, and his right to pronounce what is the will of Christ, without appeal even to the Scriptures? Does she not virtually contend for tradition, and for uninspired Councils and Fathers, as equal, or rather paramount, as a rule of faith, to the infallible Word? Does she not maintain, as openly and zealously as ever, the doctrine of human merit, as the foundation of hope toward God; of works of supererogation; and of indulgences to sin purchased by the payment of money? Does she not still hold the doctrine of Transubstantiation, "that enormous outrage on every dictate of sense and reason, as well as of Scripture?" Does she not still hold fast to her system of "auricular confession," which opens a door to almost every species of licentiousness and oppression? Has she not, within a few years, deliberately restored the power and the cruelties of the Inquisition, an institution which, perhaps, has been the means of inflicting more injury and misery, and of bringing on individuals and families a larger amount of destruction to life, liberty, and peace than any other ever bore the Christian name? Does she not, after all her multiplied denials of the fact, continue to lock up the Scriptures from the common people, and require them to read such parts only of the inspired volume as the Church allows them to see; and to put upon it that interpretation which the Church commands them to adopt? Has she not recently restored the order of the Jesuits, whose doctrinal and moral extravagance caused them, more than half a century ago, to be expelled from the territory of almost every state in Europe, not even excepting those under the dominion of Rome; and finally to be abolished by the Pope, as a disgrace to Christendom? An order, concerning which Mr. Hume has said, that "by the very nature of their institution, they were engaged to pervert learning; to refine away the plainest dictates of morality; and to erect a regular system of casuistry, by which prevarication, perjury, and every crime, where it served their ghostly purposes, might be justified and defended." Does she not insist as much as ever on the celibacy of the clergy, with all the appalling mass of abominations with which that restriction has been always connected? Does she not still endeavor, as far as practicable, to subject the intellectual powers, the consciences, the literary pursuits, the inquiries, and the property of men to her oppressive domination? Are these symptoms of returning moderation or purity? True, she does not practice some of her worst enormities in this country. The unbridled extravagance of her Monasteries and Nunneries; the heart-rending cruelties of the Inquisition; the public sale of Indulgences to commit the most shocking crimes; the open claims of dominion over the consciences and the persons of men; and the fires of Smithfield and of Constance have not yet been re-acted in our happy land. But why? Simply because public opinion, and public law, render it impracticable. That the Papal system itself is still favorable to all these enormities, it is no lack of charity to say, because that "infallible and unchanging Church," in all countries in which she dares to do so, IS ACTUALLY STILL EXHIBITING THOSE ENORMITIES, WITHOUT RELENTING OR SHAME! As long, then, as this ecclesiastical power retains these principles, and practices these crimes, can we be mistaken in applying to it those tremendous titles which the Spirit of Prophecy evidently employs to designate his character—"the Man of sin"; "the Son of perdition"; "the Antichrist," who "opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)?

The Roman Catholic Church is the Seat of Antichrist

The character of the late Bishop Watson, as remarkably free from a spirit of bigotry, and what some are disposed to call "puritanical prejudice," is well known. Yet he, in reference to the subject before us, has expressed himself in the following terms:

"That the Popish religion is the Christian religion, is a false position; and therefore Christianity may be true, though the religion of the Church of Rome be, in many of its parts, an imposture. This observation should always be kept in mind by such as are sent to finish their education by traveling in Catholic countries. It may seem paradoxical to assert, that the corruptions of any religion can be proofs of its truth; yet the corruptions of the Christian religion, as practiced by the Church of Rome, are certain proofs of the truth of the Christian religion; inasmuch as they are exact completions of the prophecies which were delivered by Daniel, St. Paul, and St. John, concerning that apostasy from the faith, which was to take place in latter times. I have known the infidelity of more than one young man happily removed, by showing him the characters of Popery delineated by St. Paul, in his prophecy concerning the 'Man of Sin' (2 Thessalonians 2:1) and in that concerning the apostasy of latter times (1 Timothy 4:1). Bishop Hurd, in his seventh sermon at Warburton's Lecture, has given a concise history of the charge of Antichristianism, which has, at different times, been brought against the Church of Rome. Dr. Whitaker, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, in his exercise for his degree at the commencement in 1582, supported this Thesis—'The Pope of Rome is that Antichrist whom the Scriptures foretold as to come.' He had, before that time, refuted the 40 arguments by which Nicholas Sanders boasted that he had demonstrated that the Pope was not Antichrist. Whitaker's works are very well worth being looked into by those who would know what can be said for and against the other principal points in controversy between Protestants and Papists, as well as against this PRIMARY PILLAR OF THE REFORMED FAITH—that the Hierarchy of the Church of Rome is the Little Horn of Daniel, the Man of Sin of St. Paul, and the Antichrist of St. John. The evidence arising from the completion of the prophecies relative to the Rise, Character, and Fall of the Man of Sin, is an increasing evidence. It strikes us with more force than it struck our ancestors before the Reformation; and it will strike our posterity, who shall observe the different gradations of his decline, and his final catastrophe, with more force than it now strikes us."

Theological Tracts, vol. V. Prefatory Remarks on Benson's Essay on the Man of Sin.

The Sinister Engagements of Romanists

There is one serious disadvantage under which Protestants labor in engaging in controversy with the Romanists, which it gives me pain to notice, but which cannot be overlooked in justice to the cause of truth. The professed morality of the former is pure and strict; whereas that of the latter is radically corrupt and evasive. The doctrine that "no faith is to be kept with heretics"; and that it is lawful to "do evil that good may come"; in other words, that there is no harm in denying, equivocating, concealing, deceiving, and uttering direct falsehoods, for the sake of bringing men into the "true Church," or defending the character of that Church, is a doctrine so well known to be practically adopted by the advocates of the Papacy, that they require to be as diligently watched as a highwayman, or an assassin in the dark. The late controversy with the Romanists, as conducted in our principal cities, afforded specimens of these extravagant and dishonorable arts, as numerous as they were revolting. Misrepresentations the most gross were not only made, but after their falsehood was demonstrated, were persisted in with a recklessness truly astonishing. With such adversaries, it is difficult for men of truth and of delicacy to carry on a contest. To employ their own weapons is inadmissible; while to follow them in all their subterfuges of evasion and falsehood, is as painful as it is tedious; and may, after all, fail of satisfying those who are of such a temperament, as to be borne down by a brazen and insolent front.

The Hindrance of Protestants Who Oppose All Controversy

I am aware of some, who profess to be fully convinced that Romanism is a corrupt and a mischievous system, are prejudiced against all controversy, as such, and deny that it is useful to employ it even in defense of the truth. They imagine that all criticism of the religious tenets of others, and especially all denunciation of them, as unscriptural and dangerous, tend to evil only, and ought to be avoided. If the eye of any such Protestant should light on this page, he is earnestly entreated to ponder well the following questions:

  • Are there not really fundamental errors which amount to "another Gospel" and which the inspired apostle has pronounced "damnable heresies"?

  • If this be so, ought not our children and neighbors, who may be assailed sooner than we imagine by these heresies, to be distinctly put on their guard against them?

  • Is not all error mischievous in its tendency, and therefore to be avoided and opposed?

  • Are we not enjoined to "try the spirits whether they are of God, seeing many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1)?

  • Nay, are we not expressly commanded to "content earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:4)?

  • Can we, therefore, without unfaithfulness to our Master in heaven, allow mischievous error to be propagated around us, without an effort to oppose and refute it?

  • Does not the word of God represent the children of men as, universally, by nature, disposed to embrace error rather than truth; and does it not represent one great object of the institution of a Church on earth, as being to lift up a Standard, and bear a solemn and constant testimony against corruption in principle and practice?

  • Have not Christians been called, in fact, in all ages to defend the truth against gainsayers; and has not controversy been ever the principal means, under the power of the Holy Spirit, of supporting and extending Gospel truth?

  • Is it not manifestly, then, one of the most important duties which we owe to God, and our fellow men—to "prove all things"; to "hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21); to warn the ignorant and unwary against the "instruction that causeth to err" (Proverbs 19:27); and to be well established in the truth?

  • Nay, is it possible to avoid controversy, in such a world as this, without a dereliction of duty?

Truly, if there be any lesson taught in the Bible, it is that Christians cannot witness the prevalence of corruption, whether in principle or practice, without lifting against it a warning voice, and employing for its overthrow all the authorized weapons of their hallowed warfare, unless they would sin against God and "offend against the generation of the righteous" (Psalm 73:15).

From Samuel Miller's Introductory Essay in A History of Popery published in 1834.


  1. ^ A History of Popery (1834).

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