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Corinth, Firmilian, and many more: and since we see pretences have been made without reason in those ages, where they might better have been confuted, than now they can,-it is greater prudence to suspect any later pretences, since so many sects have been, so many wars, so many corruptions in authors, so many authors lost, so much ignorance hath intervened, and so many interests have been served, that now the rule is to be altered: and whereas it was of old time credible, that that was apostolical whose beginning they knew not, now quite contrary, we cannot safely believe them to be apostolical, unless we do know their beginning to have been from the apostles. For this consisting of probabilities and particulars, which put together make up a moral demonstra→ tion, the argument which I now urge,-hath been growing these fifteen hundred years; and if anciently there was so much as to evacuate the authority of tradition,-much more is there now absolutely to destroy it, when all the parti culars, which time and infinite variety of human accidents have been amassing together, are now concentred, and are united by way of constipation. Because every age, and every great change, and every heresy, and every interest, hath increased the difficulty of finding out true traditions.
5. Thirdly: there are very many traditions which are lost, and yet they are concerning matters of as great consequence as most of those questions for the determination whereof traditions are pretended: it is more than probable, that as in baptism and the eucharist the very forms of ministration are transmitted to us, so also in confirmation and ordination, and that there were special directions for visitation of the sick, and explicit interpretations of those difficult places of St. Paul, which St. Peter affirmed to be so difficult, that the ignorant do wrest them to their own damnation; and yet no church hath conserved these or those many more, which St. Basil affirms to be so many, that iπλείψει ἡμέρα τὰ ἄγραφα τῆς ἐκκλησίας μυστήρια διηγούμενον ; the day would fail him in the very simple enumeration of all traditions ecclesiastical"? And if the church hath failed in keeping the great variety of traditions, it will hardly be thought a fault in a private person to neglect tradition, which either the whole church hath very much neglected inculCap. 29. de Spir. Sancto.
pably, or else the whole church is very much to blame. And who can ascertain us, that she hath not entertained some which are no traditions, as well as lost thousands that are? That she did entertain some false traditions, I have already proved; but it is also as probable, that some of those which these ages did propound for traditions, are not so, as it is certain, that some which the first ages called traditions, were nothing less.
6. Fourthly: there are some opinions, which, when they began to be publicly received, began to be accounted prime traditions, and so became such, not by a native title, but by adoption; and nothing is more usual than for the fathers to colour their popular opinion with so great an appellative. St. Austin called the communicating of infants an apostolical tradition; and yet we do not practise it, because we disbelieve the allegation. And that every custom, which at first introduction was but a private fancy or singular practice, grew afterward into a public rite, and went for a tradition after awhile continuance, appears by Tertullian, who seems to justify it; " Non enim existimas tu licitum esse cuicunque fideli constituere quod Deo placere illi visum fuerit, ad disciplinam et salutem ?" And again, “ A quocunque traditore censetur, nec autorem respicias sed autoritatem." And St. Jerome most plainly, "Præcepta majorum apostolicas traditiones quisque existimat." And when Irenæus had observed that great variety in the keeping of Lent, which yet to be a forty-days' fast is pretended to descend from tradition apostolical, some fasting but one day before Easter, some two, some forty, and this even long before Irenæus's time, he gives this reason; " Varietas illa jejunii cœpit apud majores nostros; qui non accuratè consuetudinem eorum, qui vel simplicitate quâdam vel privatâ autoritate in posterum aliquid statuissent, observârant ";" and there are yet some points of good concernment, which if any man should question in a high manner, they would prove indeterminable by Scripture, or sufficient reason; and yet I doubt not their confident defenders would say, they are opinions of the church, and quickly pretend a tradition from the very apostles, and believe themselves so secure, that they could
t Contra Marcion. de Coron. Milit. c. 3, 4. Apud Euseb. 1. 5. c. 24.
not be discovered, because the question never having been disputed gives them occasion to say, that which had no beginning known, was certainly from the apostles. For why should not divines do in the question of reconfirmation as in that of rebaptization? Are not the grounds equal from an indelible character in one as in the other? and if it happen such a question as this after contestation should be determined, not by any positive decree, but by the cession of one part, and the authority and reputation of the other, does not the next age stand fair to be abused with a pretence of tradition, in the matter of reconfirmation, which never yet came to a serious question? For so it was in the question of rebaptization, for which there was then no more evident tradition than there is now in the question of reconfirmation, as I proved formerly, but yet it was carried upon that title.
7. Fifthly there is great variety in the probation of tradition, so that whatever is proved to be tradition, is not equally and alike credible; for nothing but universal tradition is of itself credible; other traditions in their just proportion, as they partake of the degrees of universality. Now that a tradition be universal, or, which is all one, that it be a credible testimony, St. Irenæus requires that tradition. should derive from all the churches apostolical. And therefore, according to this rule, there was no sufficient medium to determine the question about Easter, because the eastern and western churches had several traditions respectively, and both pretended from the apostles. Clemens Alexandrinus' says, it was a secret tradition from the apostles, that Christ preached but one year: but Irenæus says it did derive from heretics; and says, that he, by tradition, first from St. John, and then from his disciples, received another tradition, that Christ was almost fifty years old when he died, and so by consequence preached almost twenty years: both of them were deceived, and so had all, that had believed the report of either, pretending tradition apostolical. Thus the custom, in the Latin church, of fasting on Saturday, was against that tradition which the Greeks had from the apo
z Lib. 2. c. 39. Omnes seniores testantur, qui in Asia apud Johannem, discipulum Domini, convenerunt, id ipsum tradidisse eis Johannem, &c. et qui alios apostolos viderunt, hæc eadem ab ipsis audierunt, et testantur de ejusmodi relatione. Salmeron. disput. 51. in Rom.
stles; and therefore, by this division and want of consent, which was the true tradition, was so absolutely indeterminable, that both must needs lose much of their reputation. But how then, when not only particular churches, but single persons, are all the proof we have for a tradition? And this often happened. I think St. Austin is the chief argument and authority we have for the assumption of the Virgin Mary; the baptism of infants is called a tradition by Origen alone at first, and from him by others. The procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son, which is an article the Greek church disavows, derives from the tradition apostolical, as it is pretended; and yet before St. Austin we hear nothing of it very clearly or certainly, forasmuch as that whole mystery concerning the blessed Spirit, was so little explicated in Scripture, and so little derived to them by tradition, that, till the council of Nice, you shall hardly find any form of worship or personal address of devotion to the Holy Spirit, as Erasmus observes, and I think the contrary will very hardly be verified. And for this particular in which I instance, whatsoever is in Scripture concerning it, is against that which the church of Rome calls tradition, which makes the Greeks so confident as they are of the point, and is an argument of the vanity of some things, which for no greater reason are called traditions, but because one man hath said so, and that they can be proved by no better argument to be true. Now in this case, wherein tradition descends upon us with unequal certainty, it would be very unequal to require of us an absolute belief of every thing not written, for fear we be ac counted to slight tradition apostolical. And since nothing can require our supreme assent, but that which is truly catholic and apostolic, and to such a tradition is required, as Irenæus says, the consent of all those churches which the apostles planted, and where they did preside, this topic will be of so little use in judging heresies, that (beside what is deposited in Scripture) it cannot be proved in any thing but in the canon of Scripture itself, and as it is now received, even in that there is some variety.
8. And therefore, there is wholly a mistake in this business; for when the fathers appeal to tradition, and with much earnestness, and some clamour, they call upon heretics to conform to or to be tried by tradition, it is such a tra
dition as delivers the fundamental points of Christianity, which were also recorded in Scripture. But because the canon was not yet perfectly consigned, they called to that testimony they had, which was the testimony of the churches apostolical, whose bishops and priests being the antistites religionis,' did believe and preach Christian religion, and conserve all its great mysteries according as they have been taught. Irenæus calls this a tradition apostolical, “Christum accepisse calicem, et dixisse sanguinem suum esse, et docuisse novam oblationem novi Testamenti, quam ecclesia apostolos accipiens offert per totum mundum." And the fathers, in these ages, confute heretics by ecclesiastical tradition; that is, they confront against their impious and blasphemous doctrines that religion, which the apostles having taught to the churches where they did preside, their successors did still preach, and, for a long while together, suffered not the enemy to sow tares amongst their wheat. And yet these doctrines, which they called traditions, were nothing but such fundamental truths which were in Scripture, πάντα σύμφωνα ταῖς γραφαῖς, as Irenæus in Eusebius" observes, in the instance of Polycarpus: and it is manifest by considering what heresies they fought against, the heresies of Ebion, Cerinthus, Nicolaitans, Valentinians, Carpocratians, persons that denied the Son of God, the unity of the Godhead, that preached impurity, that practised sorcery and witchcraft. And now that they did rather urge tradition against them than Scripture, was, because the public doctrine of all the apostolical churches was at first more known and famous than many parts of the Scripture, and because some heretics denied St. Luke's Gospel, some received none but St. Matthew's, some rejected all St. Paul's epistles, and it was a long time before the whole canon was consigned by universal testimony, some churches having one part, some another, Rome herself had not all; so that, in this case, the argument from tradition was the most famous, the most certain, and the most prudent. And now, according to this rule, they had more traditions than we have, and traditions did by degrees lessen as they came to be written; and their necessity was less, as the knowledge of them was ascertained to us by a better keeper of divine truths. All that great a Lib. 5. cap. 20.
b Vid. Irenæ. 1. 3. et 4. cont. hæres.