VINCENTIUS OF LERINS.
"Though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy Teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy Teachers; and thine ears shall hear a Word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand and when ye turn to the left"
It is pretty clear that most persons of this day will be disposed to wonder at the earnestness shown by those ancient bishops who have formed the subject of the foregoing pages, Ambrose, Basil, and Gregory, in defence of the Catholic faith. Ambrose would not give up a Church to the Arians, because their creed was unsound. Basil incessantly importuned the West to interfere in the concerns of the East, for the overthrow of these selfsame Arians. Gregory thought he had acquitted himself well, when he consented to be pelted with stones for preaching against these Arians in Constantinople. Yet these repeated protests and efforts were all about what? The man of the world will answer, "strifes of words, perverse disputings, curious questions, which do not tend to advance what ought to be the one end of all religion, peace and love. This is what comes of insisting on orthodoxy; putting the whole world into a fever!" Tantum relligio potuit, &c, as the Epicurean poet says.
Such certainly is the phenomena which we have to contemplate: theirs was a state of mind seldom experienced, and little understood, in this day; however, for that reason, it is at least interesting to the antiquary, even were it not a sound and Christian state also. The highest end of Church union, to which the mass of educated men now look, is quiet and unanimity; as if the Church were not rather built upon faith, and truth really the first object of the Christian's efforts,—peace but the second. The one idea which statesmen, and lawyers, and journalists, and men of letters have of a clergyman, is that he is by profession "a man of peace:" and if he has occasion to denounce, or to resist, or to protest, a cry is raised, "O how disgraceful in a minister of peace!" The Church is thought invaluable as a promoter of good order and sobriety; but is regarded as nothing more. Far be it from me to seem to disparage what is really one of her high functions; but still a part of her duty will never be tantamount to the whole of it. The beau id£al of a clergyman in the eyes of many is a "reverend gentleman," who has a large family, and "administers spiritual consolation." Now I make bold to say, that confessorship for the Catholic faith is one part of the duty of Christian ministers, nay, and Christian laymen too. Yet in this -day, if at any time there is any difference in matters of doctrine between Christians, the first and last wish—the one sovereign object—of socalled judicious men, is to hush it up. No matter what the difference is about; that is thought so little to the purpose, that your well-judging men will not even take the trouble to inquire what it is. It may be, for what they know, a question of theism or atheism; but they will not admit, whatever it is, that it can be more than secondary to the preservation of a good understanding between Christians. They think, whatever it is, it may safely be postponed for future consideration—that things will right themselves—the one pressing object being to present a bold and extended front to our external enemies, to prevent the outward fabric of the Church from being weakened by dissensions, and insulted by those who witness them. The Church exists, in an especial way, for the sake of the Faith committed to her keeping. But our practical men forget there may be remedies worse than the disease; that latent heresy may be worse than a contest of " party;" and, in their treatment of the Church, they fulfil the satirist's well-known line :—
"Propter vitam vivendi perdere causas."
No wonder they do so, when they have been so long accustomed to merge the Church in the nation, and to talk of "protestantism" in the abstract as synonymous with true religion, to consider that the characteristic merit of our Church is its tolerance, as they call it, and that its greatest misfortune is the exposure to the world of opposite principles and views which are surely at work within it. But talking of exposure, what a scandal it was in St. Peter to exert his apostolical powers on Ananias; and in St. John, to threaten Diotrephes! 'What an exposure in St. Paul, to tell the Corinthians he had "a rod" for them, were they disobedient! One should have thought, indeed, that weapons were committed to the Church for use as well as for show; but the present age apparently holds otherwise, considering that the Church is then most primitive, when it neither cares for the faith itself, nor uses the divinely ordained means by which it is to be guarded. Now, to people who acquiesce in this view, I know well that Basil and Gregory have not more of authority than an English non-juror; still, to those who do not acquiesce in it, it may be some little comfort, some encouragement, some satisfaction, to see that they are not the first persons in the world who have felt and judged of religion in that particular way now in disrepute.
However, some persons will allow, perhaps, that doctrinal truth ought to be maintained, and that the clergy ought to maintain it, but then they will urge that we should not make the path of truth too narrow; that it is a royal and a broad highway by which we travel heavenward, whereas it has been the one object of theologians, in every age, to encroach upon it, till at length it has become scarcely broad enough for two to walk abreast in. And moreover, it will be objected, that over-exactness was the very fault of the fourth and fifth century in particular, which refined upon the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and Our Lord's Incarnation, till the way of life became like the razor's edge, which is said in the Koran to be drawn over the place of punishment, and must be traversed by every one at the end of the world.
Now I cannot possibly deny, however disadvan
tageous it may be to their reputation, that the Fathers do represent the way of faith as narrow, nay, and even as being the more divine and the more royal for that very narrowness. Thus Gregory says:—
"Strait is the path of truth in very deed,
Sided with precipice and tightened in;
And whoso slips away on either hand
Is dashed adown a deep erratic track."
Vol. ii. p. J 93.
Such orthodoxy certainly is; but here it is obvious to ask whether this very characteristic of it ma}' not possibly be rather an argument for than against its divine origin. Certain it is, that such nicety, as it is called, is not unknown to other religious dispensations, creeds, and covenants, besides that which the primitive Church identified with Christianity. Nor is it a paradox to maintain that the whole system of religion, natural as well as revealed, is full of similar appointments. As to the subject of ethics, even a heathen philosopher tells us, that virtue consists in a mean,—that is, in a point between indefinitely-extending extremes; "men being in one way good, and many ways bad." The same principle, again, is seen in the revealed system of spiritual communications; the grant of grace and privilege depending on positive ordinances, simple and definite,—on the use of a little water, the utterance of a few words, the imposition of hands, and the like; which, it will perhaps be granted, are really essential to the conveyance of spiritual blessings, yet are confessedly as formal and technical as any creed can be represented to be. In a word, such technicality is involved in the very idea of a means, which may even be defined to be a something appointed at God's inscrutable pleasure, as the necessary condition of something else; and the simple question before us is, merely the matter of fact, viz. whether any doctrine is set forth by revelation as necessary to be believed in order to salvation? Antecedent difficulty in the question there is none; or rather, the probability is in favour of there being some necessary doctrine, from the analogy of the other parts of religion. The question is simply about the matter of fact. This analogy is perspicuously expressed in one of the sermons of St. Leo :—" Not only," he says, "in the exercise of virtue and the observance of the commandments, but also in the path of faith, strait and difficult is the way which leads to life; and it requires great pains, and involves great risks, to walk without stumbling along the one footway of sound doctrine, amid the uncertain opinions and the plausible untruths of the unskilful, and to escape all peril of mistake when the toils of error are on every side."— Serm. 25.
St. Gregory says the same thing :—" We have bid farewell to contentious deviations of doctrine, and compensations on either side, neither Sabellianizing nor Arianizing. These are the sports of the evil one, who is a bad arbiter of our matters. But we, pacing along the middle and royal way, in which also the essence of the virtues lies, in the judgment of the learned, believe in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."—Oral. 32.
On the whole, then, I see nothing very strange either in orthodoxy lying in what at first sight appears like subtle and minute exactness of doctrine, or in its being our duty to contend even to confessorship for such exactness. Whether it be thus exact, and whether the exactness of Ambrose or Gregory be the true and revealed exactness, is quite another question: all I say is, that it is no great difficulty to believe that it may be what they say it is, both as to its truth and its importance.
But now supposing the question is asked, is Ambrose or Gregory right? and is our Church right in maintaining with them the Athanasian doctrine on those sacred points to which it relates, and condemning those who hold otherwise? what answer is to be given? I answer by asking, if any one inquired how we know that Gregory or Ambrose was right, and our Church right, in receiving St. Paul's Epistles, what answer we should make? The answer would be, that it is a matter of history that the Apostle wrote those which are ascribed to him. And what is meant by its being a matter of history? why, that it has ever been so believed, so declared, so recorded, so acted on, from the first down to this day; that there is no assignable point of time when it was not believed, no assignable point at which the belief was introduced; that the records of past ages fade away and vanish; in the belief, that in proportion as past ages speak at all, they speak in one way, and only fail to bear a witness when they fail to have a voice. What stronger testimony can we have of a past fact?
Now the same evidence have we for the Catholic doctrines which Ambrose or Gregory maintained; they have never, and no where, not been maintained; or in other words, wherever we know any thing positive of ancient times and places, there we are told of these doctrines also. As far as the records of history extend, they include these doctrines, as avowed always, every where, and by all. This is the great canon of the Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, which saves us from the misery of having to find out the truth for ourselves from Scripture on our independent and private judgment. He who gave Scripture, also gave us the interpretation of Scripture; and He gave the one and the other gift in the same way, by the testimony of past ages, as matter of historical knowledge, or what is sometimes called by tradition. We receive the Catholic doctrines as we receive the canon of Scripture, because, as our Article expresses it, "of their authority" there "was never any doubt in the Church."
We receive them on Catholic tradition, and therefore they are called Catholic doctrines. And that they are Catholic, is a proof that they are Apostolic; they never could have been uersally received in the Church, unless they had had their origin in the origin of the Church, unless they had been made the foundation of the Church by its founders. As the separate successions of bishops in various countries have but one common origin, the Apostles, so what has been handed down through these separate successions comes from that one origin. The Apostolic College is the only point in which all the lines converge, and from which they spring. Private traditions, wandering unconnected traditions, are of no authority; but
permanent, recognised, public, definite, intelligible, multiplied, concordant testimonies to one and the same doctrine, bring with, them an overwhelming evidence of apostolical origin. We ground the claims of orthodoxy on no powers of reasoning, however great, on the credit of no names, however imposing, but on an external fact, on an argument the same as that by which we prove the genuineness and authority of the four gospels. The unanimous tradition of all the churches to certain articles of faith is surely an irresistible evidence, more trustworthy far than that of witnesses to certain facts in a court of law, by how much the testimony of a number is more cogent than the testimony of two or three. That this really is the ground on which the narrow line of orthodoxy was maintained in ancient times, is plain from an inspection of the writings of the very men who maintained it, Ambrose and Gregory, or Athanasius and Hilary, and the rest, who set forth its Catholic character in more ways than it is possible here to instance or even explain. However, in order to give the general reader some idea of the state of the case, I will make some copious extracts from the famous tract of Vincent of Lerins on Heresy. He wrote in the early part of the fifth century, was originally a layman, and by profession a soldier. In after life he became a monk and took orders. Lerins, the site of his monastery, is one of the small islands off the south coast of France. He first states what the principle is he would maintain, and the circumstances under which he maintains it; and if his principle is reasonable and valuable in itself, so does it come to us with great weight under the circumstances -which led him to his exposition of it1.
"Inquiring often," he says, " with great desire, and attention, of very many excellent, holy, and learned men, how and by what means I might assuredly, and as it were by some general and ordinary way, discern the true Catholic faith from false and wicked heresy; to this question I had usually this answer from them all, that whether I or any other desired to find out the fraud of heretics, daily springing up, and to escape their snares, and willingly would continue in a sound faith, himself safe and sound, that he ought two manner of ways by God's assistance to defend and preserve his faith; that is, first, by the authority of the law of God; secondly, by the tradition of the Catholic Church."—Ch. 2.
It will be observed, he is speaking of the mode in which an individual is to seek and attain the truth; and it will be observed also, as the revered bishop Jebb has pointed out, that he is suffering and sanctioning the use of personal inquiry. He proceeds :—
"Here some man, perhaps, may ask, seeing the * canon of the Scripture is perfect, and most abundantly of itself sufficient for all things, what need we join unto it the authority of the Church's understanding and interpretation? The reason is this, because the Scripture being of itself so deep and profound, all men do not understand it in one and the same sense, but divers men diversely, this man and that man, this
1 The Oxford translation of 1837 is used in the following extracts. The whole volume, with appendix, &c, consists of no more than 137 duodecimo pages. 1
way and that way, expound and interpret the sayings thereof, so that to one's thinking, so many men, so many opinions almost may be gathered out of them: for Novatian expoundeth it one way, Photinus another, Sabellius after this sort, Donatus after that; Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius will have this exposition; Apollinaris and Priscillian will have that; Jovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, gather this sense; and, to conclude, Nestorius findeth out that: and therefore very necessary it is for the avoiding of so great windings and turnings of errors so various, that the line of expounding the Prophets and Apostles be directed and drawn, according to the rule of the Ecclesiastical and Catholic sense.
"Again, within the Catholic Church itself we are greatly to consider, that we hold that, which hath been believed every where, always, and of oilmen: for that is truly and properly Catholic (as the very force and nature of the word doth declare) which comprehendeth all things in general after an uersal manner, and that shall we do if we follow uersality, antiquity, consent. Uersality shall we follow thus, if we profess that one faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world acknowledgeth and confesseth. Antiquity shall we follow, if we depart not any whit from those senses which it is plain that our holy elders and fathers generally held. Consent shall we likewise follow, if in this very antiquity itself we hold the definitions and opinions of all, or at any rate almost all, the priests and doctors together."—Ch. 2, 3.
It is sometimes said, that what is called orthodoxy or Catholicism is only the opinion of one or two Fathers,—fallible men, however able they might be or persuasive,—who created a theology, and imposed it on their generation, and thereby superseded Scriptural truth and the real gospel. Let us see how Vincent treats such individual teachers, however highly gifted. He is speaking of the Judaizers of the Apostles' time in the opening sentence:—
"When, therefore, such kind of men, wandering up and down through provinces and cities to set their errors to sale, came also unto the Galatians, and these after they had heard them were delighted with the filthy drugs of heretical novelty, loathing the truth, and casting up again the heavenly manna of the Apostolic and Catholic doctrine: the authority of his Apostolic office so puts itself forth as to decree very severely in this sort. 'But although (quoth he) we or an Angel from heaven evangelize unto you beside that which we have evangelized, be he Anathema V What meaneth this that he saith, 'But although we?' why did he not rather say, 'But although I ?' that is to say, Although Peter, although Andrew, although John, yea finally, although the whole company of the Apostles, evangelize unto you otherwise than we have evangelized, be he aecursed. A terrible censure, in that for maintaining the possession of the first faith he spared not himself, nor any other of the Apostles! But this is a small matter: 'Although an Angel from heaven (quoth he) evangelize unto you, beside that which I have evangelized, be he Anathema,' he was not contented for keeping the faith once delivered to make mention.
» Gal. i. 8:
of man's weak nature, unless also he included those excellent creatures the Angels. 'Although we (quoth he) or an Angel from heaven,' not that the holy Angels of heaven can now sin, but this is the meaning of that he saith: Although (quoth he) that might be which cannot be, whosoever he be that goeth about to change the faith which was once delivered, be he accursed. But peradventure he uttered those words slightly, and cast them forth rather of human affection than decreed them by divine direction. God forbid: for it followeth, and that urged with great earnestness of repeated inculcation, 'As I have foretold you (quoth he,) and now again I tell you, If any body evangelize unto you beside that which you have received, be he Anathema.' He said not, If any man preach unto you beside that which you have received, let him be blessed, let him be commended, let him be received, but let him be Anathema, that is, separated, thrust out, excluded, lest the cruel infection of one sheep with his poisoned company corrupt the sound flock of Christ."—Ch. 12 and 13.
Here, then, is a point of doctrine which must be carefully insisted on. The Fathers are principally to be considered as witnesses, not as authorities. They are witnesses of an existing state of things, and their treatises are, as it were, histories,—teaching us, in the first instance, matters of fact, not of opinion. Whatever they themselves might be, whether deeply or poorly taught in Christian faith and love, they speak, not their own thoughts, but the received views of their respective ages. The especial value of their works lies in their opening upon us a state of the Church which else we should have no notion of. We read in their writings a great number of high and glorious doings and customs; and we say, "All this must have had an existence somewhere or other in those times. These very men, indeed, may be merely speaking by rote, and not understand what they say; but it matters not to the profit of their writings what they were themselves." It matters not to the profit of their writings, nor again to the authority resulting from them; for the times in which they wrote of course are of authority, though the Fathers themselves have none. They may be nothing more than bare witnesses; yet so much as this they have a claim to be considered.
This is even the strict Protestant view. We are not obliged to take the Fathers as authorities, only as witnesses. Charity, indeed, and piety will prompt the Christian student to go further, and to believe that men who laboured so unremittingly, and suffered so severely in the cause of the Gospel, really did possess somewhat of that earnest love of the truth which they professed, and were enlightened by that influence for which they prayed; but I am stating the strict Protestant doctrine, the great polemical principle ever to be borne in mind, that the Fathers are to be adduced in controversy merely as testimonies to an existing state of things, not as authorities. At the same time, no candid Protestant will be loath to admit, that the state of things to which they bear witness, is, as I have already said, a most grave and conclusive authority in guiding us in those particulars of our duty about which Scripture is silent; succeeding, as it does, so very close upon the age of the Apostles.
Thus much I claim of consistent Protestants, and thus much I grant to them. Gregory and the rest may have been but nominal Christians. Athanasius may have been very dark in all points of doctrine, in spite of his twenty years' exile and his innumerable perils by sea and land; the noble Ambrose, a mere high churchman; and Basil, a monk. I do not dispute these points; though I claim "the right of private judgment," so far to have my own very definite opinion in the matter, which I keep to myself.
However, Vincent does not scruple to treat as severely as a Protestant could desire, some at least of those who commonly are included under the name of Fathers. Let us hear what he says of Origen and Tertullian.
"I suppose that, although I could bring forth many to show this kind of temptation, yet there is almost none which can be compared to the temptation of Origen, in whom were very many gifts, so rare, so singular, so strange, that in the beginning any would have thought that his opinions might have been believed of all men. For if life procureth authority, he was a man of great industry, of great chastity, patience, and labour: if family or learning, who more noble? being in the first place of that house which was honourable for martyrdom, himself afterward for Christ deprived not of his father only, but also spoiled of all his patrimony; arid so much he profited in the straits of holy poverty, that, as it is reported, for the confession of Christ's name he often endured affliction. Neither had he only these gifts, all which afterward served for temptation, but also a force of wit, so profound, so quick, so elegant, that he far excelled almost all other whatsoever. A man of such learning and uersal erudition, that there were few things in divinity, in human philosophy perhaps almost none, which he had not perfectly attained; who having gotten the Greek tongue, laboured also with success about the Hebrew. And for his eloquence, why should I speak of it? whose language was so pleasant, so soft, so sweet, that in my opinion not words but honey flowed from his mouth. What things were so hard to believe, which with force of argument he made not plain? what so difficult to bring to pass, which he made not to seem easy? But perchance he maintained his assertions by arguments only, Nay, without question there was never any doctor which used more examples of holy Scripture. But yet haply he wrote not much. No man living more; yea so much, that all his works seem to me not only more than can be read, but even more than can be found; who, not to lack any furtherance to learning, lived also until he was passing old. But yet perchance unfortunate in his scholars. What man ever more happy? for of his nursing grew up doctors and priests without number, yea, confessors and martyrs. Further, who is able to prosecute in words in what admiration he was with all men? in what glory? in what favour? Who that was more zealous of religion, repaired not to him from the furthest parts of the world? What Christian did not venerate him almost as a prophet? What philosopher did not honour him as a master? And how greatly he was reverenced not only of private men, but also of the empire itself, histories do speak, which report that he was sent for of Alexander the emperor's mother, to wit, for the merit of his heavenly wisdom, with the grace whereof he was full, as was she of love to the same. His epistles also testify the same thing, which with the authority of a Christian master he wrote unto Philip the emperor, the first Christian amongst all the Roman princes. And if any man upon our report admitteth not the testimony of a Christian touching his wonderful knowledge, at least let him receive an heathen confession in the testimony of philosophers. For that impious Porphyry saith, that himself, heing but yet, as it were, a boy, moved with his fame, travelled unto Alexandria, where he did see him, being then old, but yet such an one and so learned, as that he had builded him a fortress of uersal knowledge. Time would sooner fail me, than I could touch, though briefly, upon those notable gifts which were in that man, all which notwithstanding pertained not only to the glory of religion, but also to the greatness of the temptation. For among how many is there one that would willingly have forsaken a man of such wit, of so deep learning, of so rare grace, and would not sooner have used that saying, that he had rather err with Origen, than believe aright with others? And why should I say more? the matter came to that issue, that, as the end showed, not an usual and common, but a passing dangerous temptation of so great a man, so great a doctor, so great a prophet, carried away very many from soundness of faith: wherefore this Origen, so rare and singular a man, too presumptuously abusing the grace of God, indulging too much his own wit, trusting himself as sufficient, little esteeming the old simplicity of the Christian religion, presuming to be wiser than all other, contemning the traditions of the Church, and the old Fathers' teaching, expounding certain chapters of the Scriptures after a new fashion, deserved that the Church of God should also say of him, ' If there arise up in the midst of thee a prophet;' and a little after, 'Thou shalt not hear (quoth he) the words of that prophet;' and again, 'Because, (quoth he) your Lord God doth tempt you, whether you love him or no.' And surely it is not only a temptation, but also a great temptation, when a man seduceth secretly and by little and little the Church depending upon him, (admiring his wit, knowledge, eloquence, conversation, and grace, nothing suspecting him, nothing fearing him,) suddenly from the old religion to new profaneness. But some will say that Origen's books be corrupted: I will not gainsay it, but rather wish it were so: for that hath been both said and written by some, not only Catholics, but also heretics. But this is now the point we are to consider, that although not he, yet the books passing abroad under his name, are a great temptation, which, full of many hurtful blasphemies, are read and loved, not as the books of others, but as his; so that although Origen gave no cause of originating erroneous doctrine, yet his authority hath been the occasion why the error hath been received1.
1 The tenets imputed to the Origenists in Vincent's age were these: 1. That the Son of God could not see the Father, nor the Holy Spirit the Son. 2. That the soul had sinned in a pre-existent state, and the body was its prison. 3. That the devil and the fallen spirits would one time repent 4. That
"The case also of Tertullian is the very same with the former: for as Origen is to be thought the best among the Greek doctors, so Tertullian among the Latins without controversy is the chief of all our writers. For who was more learned than he? Who in divinity or humanity more practised? for by a certain wonderful capacity of mind, he attained to, and understood, all philosophy, all the sects of philosophers, all their founders and supporters, all their systems, all sorts of histories and studies. And for his wit, was he not so excellent, so grave, so forcible, that he almost undertook the overthrow of nothing, which either by quickness of wit or weight of reason he crushed not? Further, who is able to express the praises which his style of speech deserves, which is fraught, (I know not how) with that force of reason, that such as it cannot persuade it compels to assent: whose so many words almost are so many sentences; whose so many senses, so many victories. This know Marcion and Apelles, Praxeas and Hermogenes, Jews, Gentiles, Gnostics, and divers others: whose blasphemous opinions he hath overthrown with his many and great volumes, as it had been with thunderbolts. And yet this man after all this, this Tertullian, I say, not holding the Catholic doctrine, that is, the uersal and old
Adam and Eve had no bodies before the fall. 5. That the flesh would not rise again. 6. That the terrestrial paradise was spoken of allegorically. 1. That " the waters above the heavens" were angels, and those above and under the earth, evil spirits. 8. That man by sinning effaced the image of God.—Vide Huet. Origen. ii. 4. § 1. n. 12. Giesler, Eccles. Hist. vol. i. § 83.
faith, being far more eloquent than faithful, changing afterwards his mind, at last did that which the blessed confessor Hilary in a certain place writeth of him ; ' He discredited (quoth he) with his later error his worthy writings:' and he also was a great temptation in the Church. But hereof I would not say more; only this I will add, that by his defending, against the precept of Moses, for true prophecies the new madness of Montanus springing up in the Church, and those mad dreams about new doctrine of frantic women, he deserved that we should also say of him and his writings, 'If a prophet shall rise up in the midst of thee,' and straight after, ' thou shalt not hear the words of that prophet.' Why so? 'Because (quoth he) your Lord God doth tempt you, whether you love him or no.'
"We ought, therefore, evidently to note by these, so many, so great, and divers other such weighty examples in the Church, and according to the laws of Deuteronomy most clearly to understand, that if at any time any ecclesiastical teacher strayeth from the faith, that God's providence doth suffer that for our trial, whether we love Him or no in our whole heart, and in our whole soul."—Ch. 23, 24.
Vincentius proceeds to speak of the misery of doubting:—
"Which being so, he is a true and genuine Catholic that loveth the truth of God, the Church, the body of Christ; that preferreth nothing before the religion of God; nothing before the Catholic faith; not any man's authority, not love, not wit, not eloquence, not philosophy; but contemning all these things, and in faith abiding fixed and stable, whatsoever he knoweth the Catholic Church uersally in old time to have holden, that only he purposeth with himself to hold and believe; but whatsoever doctrine, new and not before heard of, such an one shall perceive to be afterward brought in of some one man, beside all or contrary to all the saints, let him know that doctrine doth not pertain to religion, but rather to temptation, especially being instructed with the sayings of the blessed Apostle St. Paul. For this is that which he writeth in his first Epistle to the Corinthians; 'There must (quoth he) be heresies also, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.' As though he should say; This is the cause why the authors of heresies are not straight rooted out by God, that the approved may be made manifest, that is, that every one may appear how stedfastly, faithfully, and constantly, he loveth the Catholic faith. And certain it is, that upon the springing up of any novelty, straightway is discerned both the weight of the corn and the lightness of the chaff; then is that easily blown out of the floor which before lightly remained in the floor; for some by and by fly away, others only shaken, are both afraid to perish, and- ashamed to return, remaining wounded, half dead, half alive, like unto those which have drunk so much poison, as neither killeth, nor well digesteth, neither bringeth death, nor yet permitteth to live. O the miserable state of such persons! with what seas of cares, with what storms, are they tossed! for now at one time, as the wind driveth them, they are carried away headlong in error; at another time, coming again to themselves, they are beaten back like contrary waves; sometime with rash presumption they allow such things as seem uncertain, at another time of pusillanimity they are in fear even about those things which are certain; doubtful which way to take, which way to return, what to desire, what to avoid, what to hold, what to let go; which misery and affliction of a wavering and unsettled heart, were they wise, is as a medicine of God's mercy towards them. For this is the reason why (being out of the safe port of the Catholic faith) they are shaken, tossed, and almost killed with storms and troubles, that they should take down the sails of their proud mind, which they vainly hoisted up to the winds of novelties, and so retire and keep themselves within the most sure port of their calm and good mother, and first cast up those bitter and turbulent waters of errors, that afterwards they may drink of the flowing rivers of lively and pure water. Let them learn well to forget that, which well they never learned; and those articles which the Church teacheth, and by reason are to be attained to, let them endeavour to understand; and those which surpass reason, let them believe.
"Which being so, oftentimes calling to mind and remembering the self-same thing, I cannot sufficiently marvel at the great madness of some men, at so great impiety of their blinded hearts, lastly, at so great a licentious desire of error, that they be not content with the rule of faith once delivered us, and received from our ancestors, but do every day search and seek for new doctrine, ever desirous to add to, to change, and to take away something from, religion; as though that were not the doctrine of God, which it is enough to have once revealed, but rather man's institution, which cannot but by continual amendment (or rather correction) be perfected.
"Whereas the Divine Scriptures cry out, 'Do not transfer the bounds which thy fathers have set down:' and ' Do not judge over thy judge;' and, 'The serpent will bite him that cutteth the hedge;' and that saying of the Apostle, by which all wicked novelties of all heretics have often been cut in pieces, as it were by a spiritual sword, and always hereafter shall be1. 'O Timothy, keep the depositum, avoiding the profane novelties of voices, and oppositions of falselycalled knowledge, which certain promising have erred about the faith.' "—Ch. 25, 26.
If the general reader has but the twentieth part of the pleasure in perusing, perhaps for the first time, which I have in quoting for the twentieth, he will let me continue a little longer:—
"'O Timothy, (quoth he,) keep the depositum, avoiding profane novelties of voices.' This exclamation O, both showeth foresight, and also argueth charity: for he foresaw certain errors, which beforehand he was sorry for. Who at this day is Timothy, but either generally the whole Church, or especially the whole body of prelates, who ought either themselves to have a sound knowledge of divine religion, or who ought to infuse it into others? What is meant by keep the depositum? Keep it (quoth he) for fear of thieves, for danger of enemies, lest when men be asleep, they oversow cockle among that good seed of wheat, which the Son of man hath sowed in
1 1 Tim. vi. 20.
His field. 'Keep (quoth he) the deposition.' What is meant by this depositum? that is, that which is committed to thee, not that which is invented of thee: that which thou hast received, not that which thou hast devised; a thing not of wit, but of learning; not of private assumption, but of public tradition; a thing brought to thee, not brought forth of thee; wherein thou must not be an author, but a keeper ; not a beginner, but a follower; not a leader, but an observer. Keep the depositum. Preserve the talent of the Catholic faith, safe and undiminished; that which is committed to thee, let that remain with thee, and that deliver. Thou hast received gold, render then gold; I will not have one thing for another; do not for gold render either impudently lead, or craftily brass; I will not the show, but the very nature of gold itself. O Timothy, O priest, O teacher, O doctor, if God's gift hath made thee meet and sufficient for thy wit, exercise, and learning, be the Beseleel of the spiritual tabernacle, engrave the precious stones of God's doctrine, faithfully set them, wisely adorn them, give them brightness, give them grace, give them beauty. That which men before believed obscurely, let them by thy exposition understand more clearly. Let posterity rejoice for coming to the understanding of that by thy means, which antiquity without that understanding had in veneration. Yet for all this, in such sort deliver the same things which thou hast learned, that albeit thou teachest after a new manner yet thou never teach new things.
'' ' O Timothy, (quoth he,) keep the depositum, avoid profane novelties of voices.' Avoid (quoth he) as a viper, as a scorpion, as a basilisk, lest they infect thee not only by touching, but also with their very eyes and breath. What is meant by avoid 1? that is, not so much as to eat with any such. What importeth this avoid ?' if any man (quoth he) come unto you, and bring not this doctrine V what doctrine but the Catholic and uersal, and that which, with incorrupt tradition of the truth, hath continued one and the self-same, through all successions of times, and that which shall continue for ever and ever? What then ?' Receive him not (quoth he) into the house, nor say God speed; for he that saith unto him God speed, communicateth with his wicked works.' 'Profane novelties of voices,' (quoth he ;) what is profane P Those which have no holiness in them, nought of religion, wholly external to the sanctuary of the Church, which is the temple of God. 'Profane novelties of voices,' (quoth he,) of voices, that is, novelties of doctrines, novelties of things, novelties of opinions, contrary to old usage, contrary to antiquity, which if we receive, of necessity the faith of our blessed ancestors, either all, or a great part of it, must be overthrown; the faithful people of all ages and times, all holy saints, all the chaste, all the continent, all the virgins, all the clergy, the deacons, the priests, so many thousands of confessors, so great armies of martyrs, so manv famous and populous cities and commonwealths, so many islands, provinces, kings, tribes, kingdoms, nations; to conclude, almost now the whole world, incorporated by the Catholic faith to Christ their
1 1 Cor. v. 11. 2 2 John 10, 11.
Head, must needs be said, so many hundreds of years, to have been ignorant, to have erred, to have blasphemed, to have believed they knew not what. 'Avoid (quoth he) profane novelties of voices,' to receive and follow which was never the custom of Catholics, but always of heretics. And, to say truth, what heresy hath ever burst forth, but under the name of some certain man, in some certain place, and at some certain time? Who ever set up any heresy, who first divided not himself from the consent of the uersality and antiquity of the Catholic Church? Which to be true, examples do plainly prove. For who ever before that profane Pelagius presumed so much of man's free will, that he thought not the grace of God necessary to aid it in every particular good act? Who ever before his monstrous disciple Celestius, denied all mankind to be bound with the guilt of Adam's transgression? Who ever before sacrilegious Arius durst rend in pieces the unity of Trinity? Who ever before wicked Sabellius durst confound the Trinity of unity? Who ever before cruel Novatian affirmed God to be merciless, in that He had rather the death of a sinner than he should return and live? Who ever before Simon Magus (stricken by Apostolical censure, from whom that old sink of all filthiness came, by continual and secret succession, unto this last Priscillian) durst ever affirm that God our Creator was the Author of evil, that is, of our wickedness, impieties, and crimes; because God (as he said) so with His own hands made man's very nature, that by a certain proper motion and impulse of an enforced will, it can do nothing else, desire nothing else, but to sin, because, being provoked
and inflamed with the furious rage of all vices, it is with an insatiable desire carried away headlong into the pit and sink of all filthiness? Such examples are infinite, which for brevity sake I omit, by all which notwithstanding it appeareth plainly and clearly enough, that it is, as it were, a custom and law in all heresies, ever to take great pleasure in profane novelties, to loath the decrees of our forefathers, and to make shipwreck of faith, by oppositions of falsely-called knowledge; contrariwise that this is usually proper to all Catholics, to keep those things which the holy Fathers have left, and committed to their charge, to condemn profane novelties, and, as the Apostle hath said, and again forewarned, 'if any man shall preach otherwise than that which is received,' to anathematize him."—Ch. 27—34.
It is presumed that these extracts have sufficiently explained on what grounds we contend for that exact and strict creed, which we call orthodoxy. According to the doctrine of Vincentius, these grounds are twofold; the ground of Scripture, and the ground of Catholic tradition :—tradition first, then Scripture, in order of perspicuity; Scripture first, then tradition in point of authority; Scripture proving, tradition teaching; tradition interpreting Scripture, Scripture verifying tradition; and the personal mind and will of the individual being the ultimate court of appeal. But here one or two remarks suggest themselves, which will serve to bring this chapter to an end.
What the primitive Church declared to be the faith is plain enough, and a sure guide; but supposing a person alleges that he himself cannot see that primitive doctrine in Scripture, what is to be said in answer to him? Are we to oblige him to accept that doctrine, whether he can see it in Scripture or not? or may he reject it till he sees it in Scripture? If he may reject it, what is the use of tradition? and if he must accept it, where is our reverence for Scripture?
I answer first, that though it is abstractedly the right of every individual to verify tradition by Scripture for himself, yet it is not so in matter of fact. It is as wrong for the generality of Christians to attempt it, as if there was no right at all. This is evident, even at first sight. Every one may be a lawyer, a soldier, or an orator—that is, there is no law of the land against it; yet most men would but bring upon themselves vexation and ridicule if they attempted to be either of the three. Now, it is as certain that the interpretation of Scripture requires qualifications for the due performance of it as pleading or fighting; knowledge of the languages, for instance, does not come by nature. It may, indeed, be urged that a divine illumination is promised us to lead us into truth; but this is not so easy of proof. Surely no promise of a guidance into truth has been made to each individual, educated or not, and that by means of the bare Greek or Hebrew text; and moreover, as far as we may judge, Almighty God is not wont to effect supernaturally, what may be effected in the way of nature. Now, as to saving faith, considered as a temper of mind, this cannot be obtained, except supernaturally, on account of Adam's fall; therefore, for the obtaining of it, each individual must ask, and may humbly expect, the aid of divine grace. But saving knowledge, and of it I am now speaking, o
though it might be, and has sometimes been, super naturally vouchsafed, as by inspiration, may also be gained by natural means, and therefore it is unlikely that it should be given by divine illumination. Catholic tradition does that which individual examination might do, were men inspired or were they learned. And whereas they are ordinarily neither, this said private inquiry is, in the case of ordinary men, a mistake; and they who attempt to exercise it, are as reasonable and wise as any one who goes out of his depth in any matter of this world.
In the next place, I would say that the juxtaposition of Scripture with tradition is ordinarily but a negative comparison of the latter with the former; though it may be, if it so happen, much more. I mean, it must be rather used to see that tradition is not wrong than to prove that it is right. This is the very meaning of the word " test" or " verification;" a test is satisfied if there is no actual disagreement, and does not ask for more. I must explain myself. Scripture has but one sense, undoubtedly; but it does not bring out upon its surface that one sense, in system and fulness; it only implies, and in a certain sense hides it. Be men ever so learned, it requires, besides, a singularly unprejudiced and straightgoing mind to enter into Scripture as it is; to penetrate, and, as it were, become diffused throughout its recesses; and to apprehend "the whole counsel of God" contained in it. Most persons, whatever be their attainments and talents, will mistake its meaning, from not apprehending its entire meaning; and that in opposite ways, from the accident of their opposite circumstances. Catholic tradition, then, has been mercifully given to supply to Scripture what it does not supply to itself, its true interpretation; and since, by the very hypothesis, it is to teach men what otherwise they would not infer from Scripture, there is nothing wonderful in its not at once annihilating, when given, all other inferences from Scripture. That which was before an unknown sense, does not at once become the only conceivable sense. Each man, before, had an interpretation of his own; those private interpretations remain; they do not become impossible, merely because there is found to be an older. The Catholic sense comes as a mediator or arbiter between disputants; and if it at once approved itself to any one party, it could not approve itself to the rest. Tradition supersedes, not reverses, the inferences of private inquirers. All that inquirers can demand to perceive, what they will perceive abundantly, is, that the Catholic sense is at least one of those senses which Scripture may have. They will indeed, in fact, perceive a great deal more; they will have a continually growing perception that it is the one only true sense; but, in order to their accepting it, it ought to be enough that they perceive that it is not excluded by the text of Scripture from being true. Few men, perhaps, if left to themselves, would see any one sense in Scripture, such as to be sure that it could have none other but it; yet I suppose few men, indeed, if they examined diligently, but would also confess that, whatever other sense it might admit, it would, at least, admit the Catholic sense. This, then, is the true mode of verifying or proving the tradition of the Church uersal by Scripture, not to insist upon seeing only that one sense in the text of Scripture which the tradition assigns, but to examine whether there is anything in the text inconsistent with that one sense. And now, perhaps, the reader has heard enough of tradition.