« PreviousContinue »
such articles as are recorded in Scripture: and this is done by them, whose authority is pretended the greatest argument for tradition, as appears largely in Irenæus', who disputes professedly for the sufficiency of Scripture against certain heretics, who affirm some necessary truths not to be written. It was an excellent saying of St. Basil, and will never be wiped out with all the eloquence of Perron in his Serm. de Fide. “Manifestus est fidei lapsus, et liquidum superbiæ vitium, vel respuere aliquid eorum quæ Scriptura habet, vel inducere quicquam quod scriptum non est.” And it is but a poor device to say that every particular tradition is consigned in Scripture by those places, which give authority to tradition; and so the introducing of tradition is not a superinducing any thing over or besides Scripture, because tradition is like a messenger, and the Scripture is like his letters of credence, and therefore authorizes whatsoever tradition speaketh. For supposing Scripture does consign the authority of tradition (which it might do, before all the whole instrument of Scripture itself was consigned, and then afterward there might be no need of tradition), yet supposing it, it will follow that all those traditions which are truly prime and apostolical, are to be entertained according to the intention of the deliverers, which indeed is so reasonable of itself, that we need not Scripture to persuade us to it;—itself is authentic as Scripture is, if it derives from the same fountain; and a word is never the more the word of God for being written, nor the less for not being written ; but it will not follow that whatsoever is pretended to be tradition, is so, neither is the credit of the particular instances consigned in Scripture; ‘et dolosus versatur in generalibus,' but that this craft is too palpable. And if a general and indefinite consignation of tradition be sufficient to warrant every particular that pretends to be tradition, then St. Basil had spoken to no purpose, by saying, it is pride and apostasy from the faith, to bring in what is not written: for if either any man brings in what is written, or what he says is delivered, then the first being express Scripture, and the second being consigned in Scripture, no man can be charged with superinducing what is not written, he hath his answer ready; and then these are zealous words absolutely to no purpose; but if such general con
i Lib. 3. c. 2. contr. hæres.
signation does not warrant every thing that pretends to tradition, but such only as are truly proved to be apostolical ; then Scripture is useless as to this particular; for such tradition gives testimony to Scripture, and therefore is of itself first, and more credible, for it is credible of itself; and therefore, unless St. Basil thought that all the will of God in matters of faith and doctrine were written, I see not what end, nor what sense, he could have in these words : for no man in the world, except enthusiasts and madmen, ever obtruded a doctrine upon the church, but he pretended Scripture for it, or tradition; and therefore, no man could be pressed by these words, no man confuted, no man instructed, no, not enthusiasts or Montanists. For suppose either of them should say, that since in Scripture the Holy Ghost is promised to abide with the church for ever,-to teach whatever they pretend the Spirit in any age hath taught them, is not to superinduce any thing beyond what is written, because the truth of the Spirit, his veracity, and his perpetual teaching, being promised and attested in Scripture, Scripture hath just so consigned all such revelations, as (Perron saith) it hath all such traditions. But I will trouble myself no more with arguments from any human authorities; but he that is surprised with the belief of such authorities, and will but consider the very many testimonies of antiquity to this purpose, as of Constantine", St. Jerome', St. Austin ", St. Athanasius“, St. Hilaryo, St. EpiphaniusP, and divers others, all speaking words to the same sense, with that saying of St. Paul', “ Nemo sentiat super quod scriptum est,” will see that there is reason, that since no man is materially a here-s tic, but that he errs in a point of faith, and all faith is sufficiently recorded in Scripture, the judgment of faith and heresy is to be derived from thence, and no man is to be condemned for dissenting in an article, for whose probation tradition only is pretended ; only according to the degree of its evidence, let every one determine himself; but of this evidence we must not judge for others : for unless it be in things of faith, and absolute certainties, evidence is a word of relation, and so supposes two terms, the object and the faculty;
* Orat. ad Nicen. pp. Apud Theodor. 1. 1. c. 7. | In Matt. I. 4. c. 23. et in Aggæum.
n Orat. cont. Gent.
m De bono viduel. c. 1.
and it is an imperfect speech to say a thing is evident in itself (unless we speak of first principles, or clearest revelations); for that may be evident to one, that is not so to another, by reason of the pregnancy of some apprehensions, and the immaturity of others.
This discourse hath its intention in traditions doctrinal and ritual, that is, such traditions which propose articles new 'in materiâ ;' but now if Scripture be the repository of all divine truths sufficient for us, tradition must be considered as its instrument, to convey its great mysteriousness to our understandings : it is said there are traditive interpretations, as well as traditive propositions, but these have not much distinct consideration in them, both because their uncertainty is as great as the other upon the former considerations; as also because, in very deed, there are no such things as traditive interpretations universal : for as for particulars, they signify no more but that they are not sufficient determinations of questions theological ; therefore, because they are particular, contingent, and of infinite variety, and they are no more argument than the particular authority of these men whose commentaries they are, and therefore must be considered with them.
12. The sum is this: since the fathers, who are the best witnesses of traditions, yet were infinitely deceived in their account; since sometimes they guessed at them, and conjectured by way of rule and discourse, and not of their knowledge, not by evidence ofthe thing; since many are called traditions which were not so, many are uncertain whether they were or no, yet confidently pretended, and this uncertainty, which at first was great enough, is increased by infinite causes and accidents in the succession of sixteen hundred years; since the church hath been either so careless or so abused, that she could not or would not preserve tradition with carefulness and truth ; since it was ordinary for the old writers to set out their own fancies, and the rites of their church, which had been ancient, under the specious title of apostolical traditions; since some traditions rely but upon single testimony at first, and yet, descending upon others, come to be attested by many, whose testimony, though conjunct, yet in value is but single, because it relies upon the first single relator, and so can have no greater authority, or certainty, than they de
rive from the single person ; since the first ages,
who were most competent to consign tradition, yet did consign such traditions as be of a nature wholly discrepant from the present questions, and speak nothing at all, or very imperfectly to our purposes; and the following ages are no fit witnesses of that which was not transmitted to them, because they could not know it at all, but by such transmission and prior consignation ; since what at first was a tradition, came afterward to be written, and so ceased its being a tradition; yet the credit of traditions commenced upon the certainty and reputation of those truths first delivered by word, afterward consigned by writing; since what was certainly tradition apostolical, as many rituals were, are rejected by the church in several ages, and are gone out into a desuetude ; and, lastly, since, beside the no necessity of traditions, there being abundantly enough in Scripture, there are many things called traditions by the fathers, which they themselves either proved by no authors, or by apocryphal, and spurious, and heretical, the matter of tradition will in very much be so uncertain, so false, so suspicious, so contradictory, so improbable, so unproved, that if a question be contested, and be offered to be proved only by tradition, it will be
will be very hard to impose such a proposition to the belief of all men with an imperiousness or resolved determination ; but it will be necessary men should preserve the liberty of believing and prophesying, and not part with it, upon a worse merchandise and exchange than Esau made for his birthright.
Of the Uncertainty and Insufficiency of Councils Ecclesiastical to
the same Purpose. 1. But since we are all this while in uncertainty, it is necessary that we should address ourselves somewhere, where we may rest the sole of our foot: and nature, Scripture, and experience, teach the world, in matters of question, to submit to some final sentence. For it is not reason that controversies should continue, till the erring person shall be willing to condemn himself; and the Spirit of God hath directed us by
that great precedent at Jerusalem, to address ourselves to the church, that in a plenary council and assembly, she may synodically determine controversies. So that if a general council have determined a question, or expounded Scripture, we may no more disbelieve the decree, than the Spirit of God himself who speaks in them. And indeed, if all assemblies of bishops were like that first, and all bishops were of the same spirit of which the Apostles were, I should obey their decree with the same religion as I do them whose preface was “ Visum est Spiritui Sancto et nobis ;" and I doubt not but our blessed Saviour intended that the assemblies of the church should be judges of the controversies, and guides of our persuasions in matters of difficulty. But he also intended they should proceed according to his will which he had revealed, and those precedents which he had made authentic by the immediate assistance of his Holy Spirit: he hath done his part, but we do not do ours. And if any private person in the simplicity and purity of his soul desires to find out a truth of which he is in search and inquisition, if he prays for wisdom, we have a promise he shall be heard and answered liberally; and therefore much more, when the representatives of the catholic church do meet ; because every person there hath ‘ in individuo' a title to the promise, and another title as he is a governor and a guide of souls, and all of them together have another title in their united capacity, especially, if in that union they pray, and proceed with simplicity and purity; so that there is no disputing against the pretence, and promises, and authority, of general councils. For if any one man can hope to be guided by God's Spirit in the search, the pious, and impartial, and unprejudicate search of truth, then much more may a general council. If no private man can hope for it, then truth is not necessary to be found, nor we are not obliged to search for it, or else we are saved by chance : but if private men can, by virtue of a promise upon certain conditions, be assured of finding out sufficient truth, much more shall a general council. So that I consider thus: there are many promises pretended to belong to general assemblies in the church; but I know not any ground, nor any pretence, that they shall be absolutely assisted, without any condition on their own parts, and whether they will or no : faith is a virtue as well