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How shall I answer to a Papist, demanding this Question ?
Your doctors and masters grant that the Church of Rome, for four or five hundred years after Christ, did hold the true religion. First then would I fain know, what bishop of Rome did first alter that religion, which you commend in them of the first four hundred years ? In what pope his days was the true religion overthrown in Rome?
Next, I would fain know, how can your religion be true, which disalloweth of many chief articles, which the saints and fathers of that primitive Church of Rome did generally hold to be true?
For they of your side, that have read the fathers of that unspotted Church, can well testify (and if any deny it, it shall be presently shewn), that the doctors, pastors, and fathers of that Church do allow of traditions; that they acknowledge the real presence of the body of Christ in the sacrament of the altar ; that they exhorted the people to confess their sins unto their ghostly fathers : that they affirmed that priests have power to forgive sins: that they taught that there is a purgatory; that prayer for the dead is both commendable and godly; that there is limbus patrum; and that our Saviour descended into hell, to deliver the ancient fathers of the Old Testament, because before his passion none ever entered into heaven; that prayer to saints and use of holy images was of great account amongst them; that man hath free will, and that for his meritorious works he receiveth, through the assistance of God's grace, the bliss of everlasting happiness.
Now would I fain know whether of both have the true religion, they that hold all these abovesaid points with the primitive Church; or they that do most vehemently contradict and gainsay them? They that do not disagree with that holy Church in any point of religion; or they that agree with it but in very few, and disagree in almost all ?
Will you say, that these fathers maintained these opinions, contrary to the word of God? Why; you know that they were the pillars of Christianity, the champions of Christ his Church, and of the true catholic religion, which they most learnedly defended against divers heresies; and therefore spent all their time in a most serious study of the holy Scripture. Or will you say, that although they knew the Scriptures to repugn, yet they brought in the aforesaid opinions by malice and corrupt intentions? Why, yourselves cannot deny, but that they lived most holy and virtuous lives, free from all malicious corrupting, or perverting of God's holy word, and by their holy lives are now made worthy to reign with God in his glory. Insomuch as their admirable learning may sufficiently cross out all suspicion of ignorant error; and their innocent sanctity freeth us from all mistrust of malicious corruption.
Now would I willingly see what reasonable answer may be made to this. For the protestants grant that the Church of Rome, for four or five hundred years, held the true religion of Christ: yet do they exclaim against the abovesaid articles, which the same Church did maintain and uphold; as may be shewn by the express testimonies of the fathers of the same Church, and shall be largely laid down, if any learned protestant will deny it.
Yea, which is more, for the confirmation of all the above mentioned points of our religion, we will produce good and certain grounds out of the sacred Scriptures, if the fathers' authority will not suffice. And we do desire any protestant to allege any one text out of the said Scripture, which condemneth any of the above written points : which we hold for certain they shall never be able to do. For indeed they are neither more learned, more pious nor more holy, than the blessed doctors and martyrs of that first Church of Rome, which they allow and esteem of so much ; and by which we most willingly will be tried, in any point which is in controversy betwixt the protestants and the catholics. Which we desire may be done with Christian charity and sincerity, to the glory of God, and instruction of them that are astray.