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they were assembled, and did implore his aid. And therefore it is that the four general councils, so called by way of eminency, have gained so great a reputation above all others; not because they had a better promise, or more special assistances, but because they proceeded better according to the rule, with less faction, without ambition and temporal ends.
12. And yet those very assemblies of bishops had no authority by their decrees to make a divine faith, or to constitute new objects of necessary credence; they made nothing true that was not so before, and therefore they are to be apprehended in the nature of excellent guides, and whose decrees are most certainly to determine all those, who have no argument to the contrary of greater force and efficacy than the authority or reasons of the council. And there is a duty owing to every parish-priest, and to every diocesan bishop; these are appointed over us, and to answer for our souls, and are therefore morally to guide us, as reasonable creatures are to be guided, that is, by reason and discourse: for in things of judgment and understanding, they are but in form next above beasts that are to be ruled by the imperiousness and absoluteness of authority, unless the authority be divine, that is, infallible. Now then, in a juster height, but still in its true proportion, assemblies of bishops are to guide us with a higher authority, because, in reason, it is supposed they will do it better, with more argument and certainty, and with decrees, which have the advantage by being the results of many discourses of very wise and good But that the authority of general councils was never esteemed absolute, infallible, and unlimited, appears in this, that before they were obliging, it was necessary that each particular church respectively should accept them, "Concurrente universali totius ecclesiæ consensu, &c. in declaratione veritatum quæ credendæ sunt "," &c. That is the way of making the decrees of councils become authentic, and be turned into a law, as Gerson observes; and till they did, their decrees were but a dead letter: and therefore it is that these later Popes have so laboured that the council of Trent should be received in France; and Carolus Molineus, a
n Vid. St. August. l. 1. c. 18. de Bapt. contra Donat.
great lawyer, and of the Roman communion, disputed against the reception. And this is a known condition in the canon law; but it proves plainly that the decrees of councils have their authority from the voluntary submission of the particular churches, not from the prime sanction and constitution of the council. And there is great reason it should: for as the representative body of the church derives all power from the diffusive body which is represented, so it resolves into it; and though it may have all the legal power, yet it hath not all the natural; for more able men may be unsent than sent; and they who are sent, may be wrought upon by stratagem, which cannot happen to the whole diffusive church. It is therefore most fit, that since the legal power, that is, the external, was passed over to the body representative, yet the efficacy of it and the internal should so still remain in the diffusive, as to have power to consider whether their representatives did their duty yea or no, and so to proceed accordingly. For unless it be in matters of justice, in which the interest of a third person is concerned, no man will or can be supposed to pass away all power from himself of doing himself right, in matters personal, proper, and of so high concernment: it is most unnatural and unreasonable. But besides that they are excellent instruments of peace, the best human judicatories in the world, rare sermons for the determining a point in controversy, and the greatest probability from human authority; besides these advantages, I say, I know nothing greater that general councils can pretend to with reason and argument sufficient to satisfy any wise man. And as there was never any council so general, but it might have been more general; for in respect of the whole church, even Nice itself was but a small assembly; so there is no decree so well constituted, but it may be proved by an argument higher than the authority of the council: and therefore general councils, and national, and provincial, and diocesan, in their several degrees, are excellent guides for the prophets, and directions and instructions for their prophesyings; but not of weight and authority to restrain their liberty so wholly, but that they may dissent, when they see a reason strong enough
So did the third estate of France in the convention of the three estates under Lewis XIII. earnestly contend against it.
so to persuade them, as to be willing, upon the confidence of that reason and their own sincerity, to answer to God for such their modesty, and peaceable, but, as they believe, their necessary, disagreeing.
Of the Fallibility of the Pope, and the Uncertainty of his expounding Scripture, and resolving Questions.
1. But since the question between the council and the Pope grew high, there have not wanted abettors so confident on the Pope's behalf, as to believe general councils to be nothing but pomps and solemnities of the catholic church, and that all the authority of determining controversies is formally and effectually in the Pope. And therefore to appeal from the Pope to a future council is a heresy, yea, and treason too, said Pope Pius II. and therefore it concerns us now to be wise and wary. But before I proceed, I must needs remember that Pope Pius II. while he was the wise and learned Eneas Sylvius P, was very confident for the pre-eminence of a council, and gave a merry reason why more clerks were for the Popes then the council, though the truth was on the other side, even because the Popes give bishopricks and abbeys, but councils give none: and yet as soon as he was made Pope, as if he had been inspired, his eyes were open to see the great privileges of St. Peter's chair, which before he could not see, being amused with the truth, or else with the reputation of a general council. But however, there are many that hope to make it good, that the Pope is the universal and the infallible doctor, that he breathes decrees as oracles, that to dissent from any of his cathedral determinations is absolute heresy, the rule of faith being nothing else but conformity to the chair of Peter. So that here we have met a restraint of prophecy indeed: but yet to make amends, I hope we shall have an infallible guide;and when a man is in heaven, he will never complain that his choice is taken from
P Epist. ad Norimberg. Patrum et avorum nostrorum tempore pauci audebant dicere Papam esse supra concilium, l. 1. de gestis Concil. Basil.
him, and that he is confined to love and to admire, since his love and his admiration are fixed upon that which makes him happy, even upon God himself. And in the church of Rome there is in a lower degree, but in a true proportion, as little cause to be troubled that we are confined to believe just so, and no choice left us for our understandings to discover, or our wills to choose, because though we be limited, yet we are appointed out where we ought to rest, we are confined to our centre, and there where our understandings will be satisfied, and therefore will be quiet, and where, after all our strivings, studies, and endeavours, we desire to come, that is, to truth; for there we are secured to find it, because we have a guide that is infallible. If this prove true, we are well enough. But if it be false or uncertain, it were better we had still kept our liberty, than be cozened out of it with gay pretences. This then we must consider.
2. And here we shall be oppressed with a cloud of witnesses for what more plain than the commission given to Peter?" Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church;" and, "To thee will I give the keys:" and again, "For thee have I prayed that thy faith fail not; but thou, when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren." And again, "If thou lovest me, feed my sheep." Now nothing of this being spoken to any of the other apostles, by one of these places St. Peter must needs be appointed foundation or head of the church, and by consequence he is to rule and govern all. By some other of these places he is made the supreme pastor, and he is to teach and determine all, and enabled with an infallible power so to do. And in a right understanding of these authorities, the fathers speak great things of the chair of Peter; for we are as much bound to believe that all this was spoken to Peter's successors, as to his person; that must by all means be supposed, and so did the old doctors, who had as much certainty of it as we have, and no more: but yet let us hear what they have said. "To this church, by reason of its more powerful principality, it is necessary all churches round about should convene."-" In this, tradition apostolical always was observed, and therefore to communicate with this bishop, with this' church, was to be in com
Irenæ. contra hæres. 1. 3. c. 3.
Ambr. de Obitu Salyri, et l. 1. Ep. 4. ad Imp. Cyp. Ep. 52.
munion with the church catholic."- " To this church error or perfidiousness cannot have access."-" Against this see the gates of hell cannot prevail.""" For we know this church to be built upon a rock."-" And whoever eats the lamb not within this house, is profane; he that is not in the ark of Noah, perishes in the inundation of waters. He that gathers not with this bishop, he scatters; and he that belongeth, not to Christ, must needs belong to antichrist." And that is his final sentence. But if you would have all this proved by an infallible argument, Optatus of Milevis in Africa supplies it to us from the very name of Peter: for therefore Christ gave him the cognomination of Cephas anò Tñs kepaλñs, to shew that St. Peter was the visible head of the catholic church. 'Dignum patellâ operculum!' This long harangue must needs be full of tragedy to all them that take liberty to themselves to follow Scripture and their best guides, if it happens in that liberty that they depart from the persuasions of the communion of Rome. But indeed, if with the peace of the bishops of Rome I may say it, this scene is the most unhandsomely laid, and the worst carried, of any of those pretences that have lately abused Christendom.
3. First: against the allegations of Scripture I shall lay no greater prejudice than this, that if a person disinterested should see them, and consider what the products of them might possibly be, the last thing that he would think of would be, how that any of these places should serve the ends or pretences of the church of Rome. For, to instance in one of the particulars, that man had need have a strong fancy who imagines, that because Christ prayed for St. Peter, that (being he had designed him to be one of those, upon whose preaching and doctrine he did mean to constitute a church) ⚫ his faith might not fail' (for it was necessary that no bitterness or stopping should be in one of the first springs, lest the current be either spoiled or obstructed), that therefore the faith of Pope Alexander VI. or Gregory, or Clement, fifteen hundred years after, should be preserved by virtue of that prayer, which the form of words, the time, the occasion, the manner of the address, the effect itself, and all the circumstances of the action and person, did determine to be personal.