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mysteries which, at the best advantage of expression, are not easy to be apprehended, and whose explication, by reason of our imperfections, must needs be dark, sometimes weak, sometimes unintelligible: and, lastly, since those ordinary means of expounding Scripture, as searching the originals, conference of places, parity of reason, and analogy of faith, are all dubious, uncertain, and very fallible,—he that is the wisest, and by consequence the likeliest to expound truest in all probability of reason, will be very far from confidence; because every one of these, and many more, are like so many degrees of improbability and uncertainty, all depressing our certainty of finding out truth in such mysteries, and amidst so many difficulties. And therefore a wise man, that considers this, would not willingly be prescribed to by others; and therefore, if he also be a just man, he will not impose upon others; for it is best every man should be left in that liberty, from which no man can justly take him, unless he could secure him from error: so that here also there is a necessity to conserve the liberty of prophesying, and interpreting Scripture; a necessity derived from the consideration of the difficulty of Scripture in questions controverted, and the uncertainty of any internal medium of interpretation.
Of the Insufficiency and Uncertainty of Tradition to expound Scripture, or determine Questions.
1. In the next place, we must consider those extrinsical means of interpreting Scripture, and determining questions, which they most of all confide in, that restrain prophesying with the greatest tyranny. The first and principal is tradition, which is pretended not only to expound Scripture "(Necesse enim est propter tantos tam varii erroris anfractus, ut propheticæ et apostolicæ interpretationis linea secundum ecclesiastici et catholici sensus normam dirigatur) b:” but also to propound articles upon a distinct stock, such articles, whereof there is no mention and proposition in Scripture. And in this topic, not only the distinct articles
h Vincent. Lirinens. in Commonitor.
are clear and plain, like as the fundamentals of faith expressed in Scripture, but also it pretends to expound Scripture, and to determine questions with so much clarity and certainty, as there shall neither be error nor doubt remaining, and therefore no disagreeing is here to be endured. And, indeed, it is most true, if tradition can perform these pretensions, and teach us plainly, and assure us of all truths, which they require us to believe, we can in this case have no reason to disbelieve them, and therefore are certainly heretics if we do, because, without a crime, without some human interest or collateral design, we cannot disbelieve traditive doctrine or traditive interpretation, if it be infallibly proved to us that tradition is an infallible guide.
2. But here I first consider that tradition is no repository of articles of faith, and therefore the not following it is no argument of heresy; for besides that I have shewed Scripture in its plain expresses to be an abundant rule of faith and manners, tradition is a topic as fallible as any other: so fallible that it cannot be sufficient evidence to any man in a matter of faith or question of heresy.
3. For first, I find, that the fathers were infinitely deceived in their account and enumeration of traditions: sometimes they did call some traditions such, not which they knew to to be so, but by arguments and presumptions they concluded them so. Such as was that of St. Austin, "Ea quæ universalis tenet ecclesia nec à conciliis instituta reperiuntur, credibile est ab apostolorum traditione descendisse1." Now suppose this rule probable, that is the most, yet it is not certain; it might come by custom, whose original was not known, but yet could not derive from an apostolical principle. Now when they conclude of particular traditions by a general rule, and that general rule not certain, but, at the most, probable in any thing, and certainly false in some things, is it wonder if the productions, that is, their judgments and pretence, fail so often. And if I should but instance in all the particulars, in which tradition was pretended falsely or uncertainly in the first ages, I should multiply them to a troublesome variety; for it was then accounted so glorious a thing to have spoken with the persons of the apostles, that if any man could with any colour pretend to it, he
Epist. 118. ad Januar. De Bapt. contr. Donat. lib. 4. c. 24.
might abuse the whole church, and obtrude what he listed under the specious title of apostolical tradition; and it is very notorious to every man, that will but read and observe the Recognitions or Stromata of Clemens Alexandrinus,— where there is enough of such false wares shewed in every book, and pretended to be no less than from the apostles. In the first age after the apostles, Papias pretended he received a tradition from the apostles, that Christ, before the day of judgment, should reign a thousand years upon earth, and his saints with him in temporal felicities; and this thing proceeding from so great an authority as the testimony of Papias, drew after it all or most of the Christians in the first three hundred years. For besides, that the millenary opinion is expressly taught by Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Origen, Lactantius, Severus, Victorinus, Apollinaris, Nepos, and divers others famous in their time; Justin Martyr in his Dialogue against Tryphon says, it was the belief of all Christians exactly orthodox, καὶ εἰ τινές εἰσι κατὰ πάντα ὀρθογνώμονες Χριστιανοὶ; and yet there was no such tradi tion, but a mistake in Papias; but I find it no where spoke against, till Dionysius of Alexandria confuted Nepo's book, and converted Coracion the Egyptian from the opinion. Now if a tradition, whose beginning of being called so began with a scholar of the apostles (for so was Papias), and then continued for some ages upon the mere authority of so famous a man, did yet deceive the church: much more fallible is the pretence, when, two or three hundred years after it, but commences, and then by some learned man is first called a tradition apostolical. And so it happened in the case of the Arian heresy, which the Nicene fathers did confute by objecting a contrary tradition apostolical, as Theodoret reports; and yet if they had not had better arguments from Scripture than from tradition, they would have failed much in so good a cause; for this very pretence the Arians themselves made, and desired to be tried by the fathers of the first three hundred years, which was a confutation sufficient to them who pretended a clear tradition, because it was unimaginable, that the tradition should leap so as not to come from the first to the last by the middle. But that this trial was sometime declined by that excellent
* Lib. 1. Hist. c. 8.
man, St. Athanasius, although at other times confidently and truly pretended, it was an argument the tradition was not so clear, but both sides might with some fairness pretend to it. And therefore, one of the prime founders of their heresy, the heretic Artemon ",—having observed the advantage might be taken by any sect that would pretend tradition, because the medium was plausible, and consisting of so many particulars, that it was hard to be redargued,pretended a tradition from the apostles, that Christ was ψιλὸς ἄνθρωπος, and that the tradition did descend by a constant succession in the church of Rome to Pope Victor's time inclusively, and till Zephyrinus had interrupted the series and corrupted the doctrine; which pretence, if it had not had some appearance of truth, so as possibly to abuse the church, had not been worthy of confutation, which yet was with care undertaken by an old writer, out of whom Eusebius transcribes a large passage to reprove the vanity of the pretender". But I observe from hence, that it was usual to pretend to tradition, and that it was easier pretended than confuted, and I doubt not but oftener done than discovered. A great question arose in Africa concerning the baptism of heretics, whether it were valid or no. St. Cyprian and his party appealed to Scripture; Stephen bishop of Rome, and his party would be judged by custom and tradition ecclesiastical. See how much the nearer the question was to a determination, either that probation was not accounted by St. Cyprian, and the bishops both of Asia and Africa, to be a good argument, and sufficient to determine them, or there was no certain tradition against them; for unless one of these two do it, nothing could excuse them from opposing a known truth, unless peradventure, St. Cyprian, Firmilian, the bishops of Galatia, Cappadocia, and almost two parts of the world, were ignorant of such a tradition, for they knew of none such, and some of them expressly denied it. And the sixth general synod approves of the canon made in the council of Carthage under Cyprian upon this very ground, because in "prædictorum præsulum
J Vide Petav. in Epiph. her. 69.
* Καὶ γάρ εἰσί τινες, ὦ φίλοι, ἔλεγον ἀπὸ τοῦ ἡμετέρου γένους ὁμολογοῦντες αὐτὸν Χριστὸν εἶναι, ἄνθρωπον δὲ ἐξ ἀνθρώπων γενόμενον ἀποφαινόμενοι, οἷς οὐ συντίθεμαι, οὐδὲ ἂν πλεῖστοι TaŬTá μa dožácavreg Emolev. Justin. Mart. Dial. ad Tryph. Jud.
Euseb. 1. 5. c. ult.
• Can. 2.
locis et solum secundum traditam eis consuetudinem servatus est;" they had a particular tradition for rebaptization, and therefore, there could be no tradition universal against it; or if there were, they knew not of it, but much for the contrary and then it would be remembered, that a concealed tradition was like a silent thunder, or a law not promulgated; it neither was known, nor was obligatory. And I shall observe this too, that this very tradition was so obscure, and was so obscurely delivered, silently proclaimed, that St. Austin, who disputed against the Donatists upon this very question, was not able to prove it but by a conse quence which he thought probable and credible, as appears in his discourse against the Donatists. "The apostles," saith St. Austin P, "prescribed nothing in this particular: but this custom, which is contrary to Cyprian, ought to be believed to have come from their tradition, as many other things which the Catholic church observes." That is all the ground and all the reason; nay, the church did waver concerning that question, and before the decision of a council, Cyprian and others might dissent without breach of charity. It was plain then there was no clear tradition in the question; possibly there might be a custom in some churches postnate to the times of the apostles, but nothing that was obligatory, no tradition apostolical. But this was a suppletory device ready at hand whenever they needed it; and St. Austin confuted the Pelagians, in the question of original sin, by the custom of exorcism and insufflation", which St. Austin said, came from the apostles by tradition; which yet was then, and is now so impossible to be proved, that he that shall affirm it, shall gain only the reputation of a bold man and a confident.
4. Secondly, I consider, if the report of traditions in the primitive times, so near the ages apostolical, was so uncertain, that they were fain to aim at them by conjectures, and grope as in the dark, the uncertainty is much increased since; because there are many famous writers, whose works are lost, which yet if they had continued, they might have been good records to us, as Clemens Romanus, Hegesippus, Nepos, Coracion, Dionysius Areopagite, of Alexandria, of
PL. 5. de Baptism. contr. Donat. c. 23. 1 Lib. 1. de Baptism. c. 18.