BLTC Press Titles


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The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely


The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour


Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle


The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian


Authority, ecclesiastical and Biblical

by Francis Joseph Hall

Excerpt:

Reville's Liberal Christianity. V. H. Stanton's Place of Authority in Matters of Religious Belief, and T. B. Strong's Authority in the Church, are useful manuals of the right kind. The subject is discussed incidentally, or referred to, by almost every writer on religious topics. For a select bibliography on ecclesiastical authority, see below, p. 65, note 1.

For completeness' sake we shall be obliged to repeat in this volume some of the considerations contained in our Introd. to Dog. Theol.

1 See Introd. to Dog. Theol., ch. iv. § 1, pp. 84-87.

On the other hand, authority is related to the acquisition of truth; and in that relation it signifies an external source of information, ultimately personal, and concerned with matters that lie beyond the present observation and previous experience of those who depend upon it. To depend upon authority means to accept the testimony and teaching of others, at least for the time being, in matters not made known by our own previous experience and reason.1

Authoritative teachings may be derived immediately from tradition or from some documentary source. In this case the term authority is extended in application to such immediate source. But the ultimate source of authoritative teaching is personal, and external to those who depend upon it.2

•Stanton, Place of Authority, p. 12, says: "We may define 'Authority,' for the purposes of the present discussion, as that principle which is exhibited in all reasons for receiving or assenting to a truth, if such there be, which are external to the man himself, to his own observation, reasoning, or intuition, or which, if revealed internally, lie beyond the reach of his own verification." He means, of course, direct verification. See Fleming, Vocab. of Philos., s. v. "Authority"; Murray, New Eng. Dic., s. v. "Author" and "Authority."

1The word authority is sometimes used loosely in such phrases as "the authority of conscience" (Butler's Sermons on Hum. Nature), and "The authority of reason" (by many modern writers). But, strictly speaking, authority involves dependence upon authors, so to speak, other than ourselves. Conscience binds, for it is our best

It is inevitable that authority in practice should often be combined with teaching authority. This is so in educational authority, for education includes more than a mere imparting of knowledge. And knowledge that bears on practice cannot be imparted successfully, unless some degree of training is given in the exercises and practices which have to do with assimilation and practical application of what is imparted.1

§ 3. In ordinary branches of knowledge we depend upon various forms of authority, (a) Little children receive the first elements of knowledge very largely from their parents and elders, (b) At a slightly later stage they gain further knowledge from teachers at school, (c) And at school they come to depend upon the authority of text-books, wherein is summarized the knowledge which has been made available by the investigations and pronouncements of scientific scholars. The authority of scientists continues to be deferred to in adult years.1 (d) There is also the authority of common judgment concerning many things, both theoretical and practical, to which all wise men, to some extent at least, defer. This common judgment exhibits the generally accepted results of the accumulated experience of mankind, or of the race or races in whose civilization the individuals concerned participate.

judgment of right and wrong; and reason may not be violated in our conclusions; but they are both subjective. Authority exhibits itself to our minds and consciences externally and objectively.


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