« PreviousContinue »
their final condition, is their own act and election therefore God hath so appointed guides to us, that if we perish, it may be accounted upon both our scores, upon our own and the guides' too, which says plainly, that although we are entrusted to our guides, yet we are entrusted to ourselves too. Our guides must direct us; and yet, if they fail, God hath not so left us to them, but he hath given us enough to ourselves to discover their failings, and our own duties in all things necessary. And for other things, we must do as well as we can. But it is best to follow our guides, if we know nothing better: but, if we do, it is better to follow the pillar of fire than a pillar of cloud, though both possibly may lead to Canaan. But then also it is possible,-that it may be otherwise. But I am sure if I do my own best, then if it be best to follow a guide, and if it be also necessary, I shall be sure, by God's grace, and my own endeavour, to get to it: but if I, without the particular engagement of my own understanding, follow a guide, possibly I may be guilty of extreme negligence; or I may extinguish God's Spirit; or do violence to my own reason. And whether entrusting myself wholly with another be not a laying up my talent in a napkin, I am not so well assured. I am certain the other is not. And since another man's answering for me will not hinder but that I also shall answer for myself; as it concerns him to see he does not wilfully misguide me, so it concerns me to see that he shall not, if I can help it; if I cannot, it will not be required at my hands; whether it be his fault, or his invincible error, I shall be charged with neither.
4. This is no other than what is enjoined as a duty. For since God will be justified with a free obedience, and there is an obedience of understanding as well as of will and affection, it is of great concernment, as to be willing to believe whatever God says, so also to inquire diligently whether the will of God be so as is pretended. Even our acts of understanding are acts of choice: and therefore it is commanded as a duty, to 'search the Scriptures;' to try the spirits whether they be of God or no ;' ' of ourselves to be able to judge what is right;''to try all things, and to retain that which is best."For he that resolves not to consider, resolves not
Malt. xv. 10. John, v. 39. 1 John, iv. 1. Eph. v. 17. Luke, xxiv. 25. Rom. i. 28. i. 11. Apoc. ii. 2. Acts, xvii. 11.
to be careful whether he have truth or no; and therefore hath an affection indifferent to truth or falsehood, which is all one as if he did choose amiss and since when things are truly propounded, and made reasonable and intelligible, we cannot but assent, and then it is no thanks to us; we have no way to give our wills to God in matters of belief, but by our industry in searching it, and examining the grounds, upon which the propounders build their dictates. And the not doing it is oftentimes a cause that God gives a man over siç voūv àdúκιμον, 'into a reprobate and undiscerning mind and understanding.'
5. And this very thing, though men will not understand it, is the perpetual practice of all men in the world, that can give a reasonable account of their faith. The very catholic church itself is 'rationabilis et ubique diffusa,' saith Optatus; 'reasonable, as well as diffused every where'. For, take the proselytes of the church of Rome, even in their greatest submission of understanding, they seem to themselves to follow their reason most of all. For if you tell them, Scripture and tradition are their rules to follow, they will believe you when they know a reason for it; and if they take you upon your word, they have a reason for that too: either they believe you a learned man, or a good man, or that you can have no ends upon them, or something that is of an equal height to fit their understandings. If you tell them they must believe the church, you must tell them why they are bound to it; and if you quote Scripture to prove it, you must give them leave to judge, whether the words alleged speak your sense or no, and therefore, to dissent, if they say no such thing. And although all men are not wise, and proceed discreetly, yet all make their choice some way or other. He that chooses to please his fancy, takes his choice as much as he that chooses prudently. And no man speaks more unreasonably than he that denies to men the use of their reason in choice of their religion. For that I may, by the way, remove the common prejudice, reason and authority are not things incompetent or repugnant, especially when the authority is infallible and supreme: for there is no greater reason in the world than to believe such an authority. But then we must consider whether every authority that pretends to be such, is
so indeed. And therefore 'Deus dixit, ergo hoc verum est,' is the greatest demonstration in the world for things of this But it is not so in human dictates, and yet reason and human authority are not enemies. For it is a good argument for us to follow such an opinion, because it is made sacred by the authority of councils and ecclesiastical tradition, and sometimes it is the best reason we have in a question, and then it is to be strictly followed: but there may also be, at other times, a reason greater than it that speaks against it, and then the authority must not carry it. But then the difference is not between reason and authority, but between this reason and that which is greater: for authority is a very good reason, and is to prevail, unless a stronger comes and disarms it, but then it must give place. So that in this question, by reason I do not mean a distinct topic, but a transcendent that runs through all topics: for reason, like logic, is instrument of all things else; and when revelation, and philosophy, and public experience, and all other grounds of probability or demonstration, have supplied us with matter, then reason does but make use of them: that is, in plain terms, there being so many ways of arguing, so many sects, such differing interests, such variety of authority, so many pretences, and so many false beliefs, it concerns every wise man to consider which is the best argument, which proposition relies upon the truest grounds. And if this were not his only way, why do men dispute and urge arguments? why do they cite councils and fathers? why do they allege Scripture and tradition, and this on all sides, and to contrary purposes? If we must judge, then we must use our reason; if we must not judge, why do they produce evidence? Let them leave disputing, and decree propositions magisterially; but then we may choose whether we will believe them or no: or if they say, we must believe them, they must prove it, and. tell us why. And all these disputes concerning tradition, councils, fathers, &c. are not arguments against or besides reason, but contestations and pretences to the best arguments, and the most certain satisfaction of our reason. But then all these coming into question submit themselves to reason, that is, to be judged by human understanding, upon the best grounds and information it can receive. So that Scripture, tradition, councils, and fathers, are the evidence in a question,
but reason is the judge: that is, we being the persons that are to be persuaded, we must see that we be persuaded reasonably; and it is unreasonable to assent to a lesser evidence, when a greater and clearer is propounded. But of that every man for himself is to take cognizance, if he be able to judge; if he be not, he is not bound under the tie of necessity to know any thing of it: that what is necessary shall be certainly conveyed to him, God, that best can, will certainly take care for that; for if he does not, it becomes to be not necessary; or if it should still remain necessary, and he damned for not knowing it, and yet to know it be not in his power, then who can help it? there can be no farther care in this business. In other things, there being no absolute and prime necessity, we are left to our liberty to judge that way that makes best demonstration of our piety and of our love to God and truth, not that way that is always the best argument of an excellent understanding; for this may be a blessing, but the other only is a duty.
6. And now that we are pitched upon that way, which is most natural and reasonable in determination of ourselves, rather than of questions, which are often indeterminable, since right reason, proceeding upon the best grounds it can, viz. of divine revelation and human authority and probability, is our guide, stando in humanis ;' and supposing the assistance of God's Spirit,-which he never denies them that fail not of their duty in all such things, in which he requires truth and certainty-it remains that we consider how it comes to pass, that men are so much deceived in the use of their reason and choice of their religion, and that, in this account, we distinguish those accidents which make error innocent, from those which make it become a heresy.
Of some Causes of Error in the Exercise of Reason, which are inculpate in themselves.
1. THEN I consider that there are a great many inculpable causes of error, which are arguments of human imperfections,
not convictions of a sin. And first, The variety of human understandings is so great, that what is plain and apparent to one, is difficult and obscure to another; one will observe a consequent from a common principle, and another from thence will conclude the quite contrary. When St. Peter saw the vision of the sheet let down with all sorts of beasts in it, and a voice saying, 'Surge, Petre, macta et manduca,' if he had not, by a particular assistance, been directed to the meaning of the Holy Ghost, possibly he might have had other apprehensions of the meaning of that vision; for to myself it seems naturally to speak nothing but the abolition of the Mosaical rights, and the restitution of us to that part of Christian liberty, which consists in the promiscuous eating of meats and yet besides this, there want not some understandings in the world, to whom these words seem to give St. Peter a power to kill heretical princes. Methinks it is a strange understanding that makes such extractions; but Bozius and Baronius did so. But men may understand what they please, especially when they are to expound oracles. It was an argument of some wit, but of singularity of understanding, that happened in the great contestation between the missals of St. Ambrose and St. Gregory. The lot was thrown, and God made to be judge; so that he was tempted to a miracle, to answer a question which themselves might have ended without much trouble. The two missals were laid upon the altar, and the church-door shut and sealed. By the morrow-matins they found St. Gregory's missal torn in pieces (saith the story), and thrown about the church; but St. Ambrose's opened and laid upon the altar in a posture of being read. If I had been to judge of the meaning of this miracle, I should have made no scruple to have said, it had been the will of God that the missal of St. Ambrose, which had been anciently used, and publicly tried and approved of, should still be read in the church; and that of Gregory let alone, it being torn by an angelical hand as an argument of its imperfection, or of the inconvenience of innovation. But yet they judged it otherwise; for by the tearing and scattering about, they thought it was meant it should be used over all the world, and that of St. Ambrose read only in the church of Milan. I am more satisfied that the former was the true meaning, than I am of the truth of the story: but we must