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mysteriousness of Christ's priesthood, the unity of his sacrifice, Christ's advocation and intercession for us in heaven, and many other excellent doctrines, might very well be accounted traditions before St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews was published to all the world; but now they are written truths, and if they had not, possibly we might either have lost them quite, or doubted of them, as we do of many other traditions, by reason of the insufficiency of the propounder. And therefore it was, that St. Peter took order that the Gospel should be writ; for he had promised that he would do something, which, after his decease, should have these things in remembrance. He knew it was not safe trusting the report of men, where the fountain might quickly run dry, or be corrupted so insensibly, that no cure could be found for it, nor any just notice taken of it till it were incurable. And, indeed, there is scarce any thing but what is written in Scripture, that can, with any confidence of argument, pretend to derive from the apostles, except rituals, and manners of ministration; but no doctrines or speculative mysteries are so transmitted to us by so clear a current, that we may see a visible channel, and trace it to the primitive fountains. It is said to be a tradition apostolical, that no priest should baptize without chrism and the command of the bishop: suppose it were, yet we cannot be obliged to believe it with much confidence, because we have but little proof for it, scarce any thing but the single testimony of St. Jerome. And yet, if it were, this is but a ritual, of which, in passing by, I shall give that account: That, suppose this and many more rituals did derive clearly from tradition apostolical,-which yet but very few do,—yet it is hard that any church should be charged with crime for not observing such rituals, because we see some of them which certainly did derive from the apostles, are expired and gone out in a desuetude; such as are abstinence from blood and from things strangled ;-the cœnobitic life of secular persons, the college of widows;-to worship standing, upon the Lord's day, to give milk and honey to the newly baptized,— and many more of the like nature; now there having been no mark to distinguish the necessity of one from the indifferency of the other, they are all alike necessary, or alike d Dialog. adv. Lucifer.
c 2 Pet. i. 13.
indifferent; if the former, why does no church observe them? If the latter, why does the church of Rome charge upon others the shame of novelty, for leaving of some rights and ceremonies, which, by her own practice, we are taught to have no obligation in them, but the adiaphorous? St. Paul gave order, that " a bishop should be the husband of one wife;" the church of Rome will not allow so much; other churches allow more: the apostles commanded Christians to fast on Wednesday and Friday, as appears in their canons; the church of Rome fasts Friday and Saturday, and not on Wednesday: the apostles had their agapæ or love-feasts; we should believe them scandalous: they used a kiss of charity in ordinary addresses; the church of Rome keeps it only in their mass, other churches quite omit it: the apostles permitted priests and deacons to live in conjugal society, as appears in the fifth Can. of the apostles (which to them is an argument who believe them such), and yet the church of Rome by no means will endure it; nay, more, Michael Medina gives testimony, that of eighty-four canons apostolical which Clemens collected, scarce six or eight are observed by the Latin church; and Peresius gives this account of it; "In illis contineri multa, quæ temporum corruptione non plenè observantur, aliis pro temporis et materiæ qualitate aut obliteratis, aut totius ecclesiæ magisterio abrogatis." Now it were good that they, which take a liberty to themselves, should also allow the same to others. So that, for one thing or other, all traditions, excepting those very few that are absolutely universal, will lose all their obligation, and become no competent medium to confine men's practices, or limit their faiths, or determine their persuasions. Either for the difficulty of their being proved, the incompetency of the testimony that transmits them, or the indifferency of the thing transmitted, all traditions, both ritual and doctrinal, are disabled from determining our consciences either to a necessary believing or obeying.
9. Sixthly to which I add, by way of confirmation, that there are some things called traditions, and are offered to be proved to us by a testimony, which is either false or not extant. Clemens of Alexandria pretended it a tradition, that
• De sacr. hom. continent, lib. 5. c. 105. De Tradit. part. 3. c. de Author. Can, Apost.
the apostles preached to them that died in infidelity, even after their death, and then raised them to life; but he proved it only by the testimony of the book of Hermes; he affirmed it to be a tradition apostolical, that the Greeks were saved by their philosophy; but he had no other authority for it but the apocryphal books of Peter and Paul. Tertullian and St. Basil pretended it an apostolical tradition, to sign in the air with the sign of the cross; but this was only consigned to them in the Gospel of Nicodemus. But to instance, once for all, in the Epistle of Marcellus to the bishop of Antioch, where he affirms that it is the canon of the apostles, " præter sententiam Romani pontificis, non posse concilia celebrari." And yet there is no such canon extant, nor ever was, for aught appears in any record we have; and yet the collection of the canons is so entire, that though it hath something more than what was apostolical, yet it hath nothing less. And now that I am casually fallen upon an instance from the canons of the apostles, I consider that there cannot in the world a greater instance be given, how easy it is to be abused in the believing of traditions. For, 1. to the first fifty, which many did admit for apostolical, thirty-five more were added, which most men now count spurious, all men call dubious, and some of them universally condemned by peremptory sentence, even by them who are greatest admirers of that collection, as sixty-fifth, sixty-seventh, and eighty-fourth and fifth canons. For the first fifty, it is evident that there are some things so mixed with them, and no mark of difference left, that the credit of all is much impaired, insomuch that Isidore of Seville says, "they were apocryphal, made by heretics, and published under the title Apostolical, but neither the fathers nor the church of Rome did give assent to them." And yet they have prevailed so far amongst some, that Damascen is of opinion they should be received equally with the canonical writings of the apostless. One thing only I observe (and we shall find it true in most writings, whose authority is urged in questions of theology), that the authority of the tradition is not it, which moves the assent, but the nature of the thing; and because such a canon is delivered, they do not therefore believe the sanction or proposition so delivered, but disbelieve the tradition, if they do not like the ↑ Apud Gratian, dist. 16. c. Canones.
Lib. 1. c. 18. de Orthod. Fide.
matter; and so do not judge of the matter by the tradition, but of the tradition by the matter. And thus the church of Rome rejects the eighty-fourth or eighty-fifth canon of the apostles, not because it is delivered with less authority than the last thirty-five are, but because it reckons the canon of Scripture otherwise than it is at Rome. Thus also the fifth canon amongst the first fifty, because it approves the marriage of priests and deacons, does not persuade them to approve of it too, but itself becomes suspected for approving it: so that either they accuse themselves of palpable contempt of the apostolical authority, or else that the reputation of such traditions is kept up to serve their own ends, and therefore, when they encounter them, they are no more to be upheld; which what else is it but to teach all the world to contemn such pretences, and undervalue traditions, and to supply to others a reason why they should do that, which to them that give the occasion, is most unreasonable?
10. Seventhly: the testimony of the ancient church being the only means of proving tradition, and sometimes their dictates and doctrine being the tradition pretended of necessity to be imitated, it is considerable that men, in their estimate of it, take their rise from several ages and differing testimonies, and are not agreed about the competency of their testimony; and the reasons that on each side make them differ, are such as make the authority itself the less authentic and more repudiable. Some will allow only of the three first ages, as being most pure, most persecuted, and therefore most holy, least interested, serving fewer designs, having fewest factions, and therefore more likely to speak the truth for God's sake and its own, as best complying with their great end of acquiring heaven in recompense of losing their lives: others say", that those ages, being persecuted, minded the present doctrines proportionable to their purposes and constitution of the ages, and make little or nothing of those questions which at this day vex Christendom: and both speak true: the first ages speak greatest truth, but least pertinently. The next ages, the ages of the four general councils, spake something, not much more pertinently to the present questions, but were not so likely to speak true, by reason of their dispositions contrary to the capacity and circumstance
h Vid. Car. Perron. Lettre au Sieur Casaubon.
of the first ages; and if they speak wisely as doctors, yet not certainly as witnesses of such propositions which the first ages noted not; and yet, unless they had noted, could not possibly be traditions. And therefore, either of them will be less useless as to our present affairs. For indeed the questions, which now are the public trouble, were not considered or thought upon for many hundred years, and therefore prime tradition there is none as to our purpose, and it will be an insufficient medium to be used or pretended in the determination; and to dispute concerning the truth or necessity of traditions, in the questions of our times, is as if historians, disputing about a question in the English story, should fall on wrangling whether Livy or Plutarch were the best writers: and the earnest disputes about traditions are to no better purpose. For no church at this day admits the one half of those things, which certainly by the fathers were called traditions apostolical, and no testimony of ancient writers does consign the one half of the present questions, to be or not to be traditions. So that they who admit only the doctrine and testimony of the first ages, cannot be determined in most of their doubts which now trouble us, because their writings are of matters wholly differing from the present disputes; and they which would bring in after-ages to the authority of a competent judge or witness, say the same thing; for they plainly confess that the first ages spake little or nothing to the present question, or at least nothing to their sense of them; for therefore they call in aid from the following ages, and make them suppletory and auxiliary to their designs, and therefore are no traditions to our purposes. And they who would willingly have it otherwise, yet have taken no course it should be otherwise; for when they had opportunity, in the councils of the last ages, to determine what they had a mind to, yet they never named the number, nor expressed the particular traditions which they would fain have the world believe to be apostolical: but they have kept the bridle in their own hands, and made a reserve of their own power, that, if need be, they may make new pretensions, or not be put to it to justify the old by the engagement of a conciliar declaration.
11. Lastly: we are acquitted, by the testimony of the primitive fathers, from any other necessity of believing, than of