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IV. We cannot avoid making remarks upon these two chapters.
1. Vincent says, that having inquired of many, how he might discern the catholic doctrine from heresy, he received from almost all of them this answer : • That it might be done in a twofold method; by the authority of the divine law, and the tradition of the catholic church. We must not charge Vincent with falsehood; or deny, that he had received this answer from some, and even from many : nevertheless, I cannot say that this direction has appeared in any of the writers w.hom we have hitherto examined. They do all in general say, that the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the rule of the christian belief and practice; that there are no other writings from which any doctrine of religion may be proved ; that they build their faith upon the prophets and apostles, who alone are infallible; and that they are far froin paying the like regard to Cyprian, or Hilary, or their writings. This has been the concurrent declaration of the primitive christians, and of all other christian writers to this time : and we perceive that Vincent bad met with some who were of the same opinion ; though, as he says, many were for joining ecclesiastical tradition with the divine law.
2. Here is mentioned, by Vincent, that allowed maxim, admitted by all christians in general, that' the canon of scripture is perfect, and in itself abundantly sufficient for all the purposes of a rule;' and, I think, this must have been a general maxim in Vincent's age, as well as in former times.
3. There is no good reason to say, that the scriptures are too sublime to be understood. It is certain, and has been generally allowed by all christians of the early ages, that the scriptures are clear in all matters of importance; and that, if read with care, and an honest mind, men of ordinary capacities may gain from tbence instruction in all things necessary to be known and understood by them, in order to their being saved.
4. The sacred scripture is the only proper rule of christian belief and practice; because it is admitted, by christians of all sects and denominations, to contain a true and infallible account of the revealed will of God. To this all appeal : Sabellians, Novatians, Donatists, Arians, Priscillianists, as well as catholics; by this they are willing to be determined. But how can men of different sentiments be convinced and satisfied by catholic tradition, when they do not admit its authority ?
5. To say that the scripture is a perfect and sufficient rule,' and that · tradition must be joined with it,' in order to our knowing the right faith, is a contradiction in terms; though some, as it seems, do not perceive it, througb prejudice, or want of due attention.
6. To make tradition the rule of interpretation, is to ad. vance it above the scriptures, and to render them of no effect: which, certainly, could not be the design of any of the numerous christian writers whom we have hitherto consulted; for they do all express a very high regard for the sacred scriptures, and sincerely, so far as we are able to judge.
V. We now proceed to the third chapter of Vincent's Memoir.
• And, f in the catholic church itself, great care must be taken, that we hold that which has been believed every where, always, and by all; for that is catholic, as the word itself shows. We are, therefore, to confess that one true faith, which the whole church confesseth, throughout the whole world; nor are we to depart from that faith, which our ancestors and holy fathers have maintained. We are also to follow the determinations which have been made by all, or almost all, the bishops, and eminent men of the church; so shall we obtain universality, antiquity, and consent.'
VI. Upon this chapter, likewise, we are led to make remarks; but before we do so, some inquiries are needful for settling this rule.
First of all. Are the apostles here included, or excluded ? • If,' 6 says Ja. Basnage, . in order to our receiving any • thing as true, it ought to have been believed by all teach• ers, and in all times, we must place the apostles in the frank of teachers; for why should they be excluded ? Are • not they as venerable, and as judicious, as the bishops that • have succeeded them; the greatest honour of some of whom • is, that they had conversed with the apostles? If we in
In ipsâ item catholicâ ecclesiâ, magnopere curandum est, ut id teneamus, quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est. Hoc est enim vere proprieque catholicum, (quod ipsa vis nominis ratioque declarat,) quod omnia fere universaliter comprehendit. Sed hoc ita demum fiet, si sequamur universitatem, antiquitatem, consensionem. Sequemur autem universitatem hoc modo, si hanc unam fidem veram esse fateamur, quam tota per orbem terrarum confitetur ecclesia. Antiquitatem vero ita, si ab iis sensibus nullatenus recedamus, quos sanctos majores ac patres nostros celebråsse manifestum est. Consensionem quoque itidem, si in ipsà vetustate omnium, vel certe pene omnium, sacerdotum et magistrorum definitiones sententiasque sectemur. Ibid. c. 3.
8 Histoire de l'Eglise, 1. 9. c. 7. n. 4.
• clude the apostles in the class of teachers, we must have * recourse to their writings, and consult them; if they are • excluded, Vincent's rule is badly expressed: for in that I way we must at once, and first of all, retrench a quarter • part of the time that had passed between Jesus Christ and • himself; that is, the first age, and the purest period of the • church. We also, in this way, set aside those teachers • which are most to be relied upon, and have had the greatest • authority.'
So that learned and diligent author. Nevertheless, it seems to me, that the inspired writers of the Old and New Testament are here excluded; for, at the conclusion of the preceding chapter, he said, It is necessary, • that the • line of prophetical and apostolical interpretation should • be guided by the rule of the ecclesiastical and catholic • sense. That rule,' or • norma,' is here distinctly specified. The prophets and apostles, therefore, are excluded. Vincent here speaks of quite other persons : he mentions, not them, but only · bishops, and masters,' or eminent men. I think, he intends the immediate successors of the apostles; and also all succeeding catholics, all in every part of the world to his own time, but especially bishops, and other eminent men.
In the second place. Another question may be put : Whether Vincent speaks of catholics only, or of all christians in general, catholics and heretics, since the time of the apostles? Then the rule will be thus: Whatever has been believed every where, always, and by all, with one consent, may be depended upon as certainly the right faith.' This might be reckoned a true, or very probable proposition; for there are some generals, not denied or contradicted by heretics, in which they and catholics agree; but these would make out but a short and defective creed. Moreover, this cannot be Vincent's meaning : for he is laying down a rule to distinguish those catholic doctrines wbich are different from those of the heretics; not those in which catholics and heretics agree. We must not consider. this observation concerning universality, antiquity, and consent, as an independent proposition, but as in connexion with what precedes and follows; which is the only way to know a writer's meaning.
VII. If we have rightly explained this passage, we may now inake some remarks.
1. This way of arguing is a plain · petitio principii,' a mean begging the question : that is assumed, which ought to be proved; it is determined, who are catholics, or wbich
is the catholic faith ; whilst we are still inquiring, What is the catholic faith? which is absurd and ridiculous.
2. This rule is attended with unavoidable and insuperable perplexity and difficulty. It is impossible, or next to impossible, for the most learned and laborious men, much more for private and unlearned christians, to know what opinions are now held by the whole church all over the earth, and have been held by the whole church from the beginning to their own time; and all the declarations and decisions of all bishops and teachers, called catholic.
3. The difficulty is increased by length of time. It is more difficult for us now, than it was for Vincent, to know what has been believed in the church, everywhere, always, and by all.
There is, indeed, one way to shorten this inquiry : which is, for some one man, or a few men, to declare decisively, and authoritatively, what is tradition; or what has been the judgment of all catholics, in all times, and in all places. Then the trouble here spoken of, is saved, but this destroys all private judgment : thought, and examination, and consideration, are no longer needful, but quite useless and insigniticant. But before any man can willingly and deliberately allow, that the right faith, or what he is to believe, should be so determined for bim, he must be first quite indifferent about truth. He might as well conceit, that what is right or wrong, true or false, should be determined by the throw of a die.
4. The only sure method, therefore, of knowing what is the true christian doctrine, is to have recourse to the scriptures ; and, according to our Lord's direction, to “ search” them carefully and sincerely, without prejudice: which likewise is the doctrine of all the many christian writers of former times ; as appear from the large extracts, which we have made from their works. And as Vincent is pleased to refer us to them, I hope we may be permitted to respect their judgments upon this head, in which tbere is a very general concurrence among them.
The learned writer, before quoted, says: “Ith is wonderful, that so many Protestants, as well as Roinanists, should • have suffered themselves to be dazzled by this rule: • which either contains big words only, without meaning, or • else would reduce a man to an examen absolutely impossible.'
h Enfin non seulement les Catholiques Romains, intéressés à défendre les traditions, la mettent toujours à la tête de leurs écrits ; mais il y a des Réformés, qui s' en étant laissés éblouir, s' en sont fait une règle sûre pour connôitre la vérité. Mais il est étonnant, qu' on se laisse éblouir par de grands mots, qui ne disent rien, ou qui réduissent l'homme à un examen absolument mpossibile. 1. Basn. H. de l'Eglise. I. ix. ch. 7. iv.
It is farther observed, by the same writer, that this rule was invented in favour of Semipelagianism. “Thei Semi• pelagians,' he says, embarrassed with the numerous pas• sages which Augustine alleged from St. Paul's epistles, • had recourse to tradition. They accused Augustine of
being an innovator ; they boasted of the antiquity of their • doctrine. This argument seemed to them so cogent, that • perhaps there is not any one of their works, in which it is • not repeated.' Pagik also speaks to the like purpose : though, upon other accounts, he greatly commends this work of Vincent.
Whatever might be the particular views of Vincent, I think that the divinely-inspired scriptures are the sole rule of christian belief and practice; and not the writings, or sentiments of any men, since the days of the inspired apostles of Jesus Christ.
VIII. After this discussion of the first three chapters of Vincent, it may not be amniss to observe, briefly, the books of the New Testament, received or quoted by him.
1. I do not recollect in him any quotation of the epistle of the Hebrews, or reference to it; which may create a suspicion, whether it was received by bim.
Otherwise I should be apt to think that he received all the books of the New Testament which we now receive: for he has quoted the second epistle' of St. John; and the book of the Revelation is quoted or referred to in a passage of St. Ambrose, quoted m by him. It seems also to be referred to in some words of bis" own.
* Opus illud aureum, et nunquam satis pro dignitate ejus commendandum, eo fine conscriptum fuit, ut Augustini doctrinam in suspicionem traheret. Ann. 434. n. 17.-Denique Prosper etiam ad Augustinum scribens eum certiorem facit, Semipelagianos sua dogmata venerando vetustatis nomine tueri, et ei novitatem objicere. Obstinationem suam,' inquit,“ vetustate defendunt. At Vincentius Lirinensis in toto passim Commonitorio id unum inculcat, tuendam antiquitatem, vitandam novitatem : a doctore ea esse dicenda, quæ ab antiquis didicerit. Ibid. n. 18.
1. Siquis,' inquit, • venit ad vos, et hanc doctrinam non adfert.'—Quid tum? • Nolite, inquit, • recipere eum in domum, nec • Ave,' ei dixeritis. Qui enim dicit illi - Ave,' communicat operibus ejus malignis. [2 Jo. 10, 11.) Commonit. cap. 33. p. 354. edit. Baluz. 1669.
m Vid. Comm. cap. 7. p. 320, 321. Baluz.
n Magnum hoc igitur eorundem beatorum exemplum, planeque divinum, et veris quibusque catholicis indefessâ meditatione recollendum, qui in modum septemplicis candelabri septenà sancti Spiritûs luce radiantes, clarissimam posteris normam præmonstrârunt, &c. Com, cap 7. p. 320. Baluz.