Page images
PDF
EPUB

pably, or else the whole church is very much to blame. And who can ascertain us, that she hath not entertained some which are no traditions, as well as lost thousands that are ? That she did entertain some false traditions, I have already proved; but it is also as probable, that some of those which these ages did propound for traditions, are not so, as it is certain, that some which the first ages called traditions, were nothing less.

6. Fourthly: there are some opinions, which, when they began to be publicly received, began to be accounted prime traditions, and so became such, not by a native title, but by adoption; and nothing is more usual than for the fathers to colour their popular opinion with so great an appellative. St. Austin called the communicating of infants an apostolical tradition; and yet we do not practise it, because we disbelieve the allegation. And that every custom, which at first introduction was but a private fancy or singular practice, grew afterward into a public rite, and went for a tradition after a while continuance, appears by Tertullian, who seems to justify it; “Non enim existimas tu licitum esse cuicunque fideli constituere quod Deo placere illi visum fuerit, ad disciplinam et salutem ?” And again, “ A quocunque traditore censetur, nec autorem respicias sed autoritatem t." And St. Jerome most plainly, “ Præcepta majorum apostolicas traditiones quisque existimat." And when Irenæus had observed that great variety in the keeping of Lent, which yet to be a forty-days' fast is pretended to descend from tradition apostolical, some fasting but one day before Easter, some two, some forty, and this even long before Irenæus's time, he gives this reason ; “ Varietas illa jejunii cæpit apud majores nostros ; qui non accuratè consuetudinem eorum, qui vel simplicitate quâdam vel privatâ autoritate in posterum aliquid statuissent, observârantu;” and there are yet some points of good concernment, which if any man should question in a high manner, they would prove indeterminable by Scripture, or sufficient reason ; and yet I doubt not their confident defenders would say, they are opinions of the church, and quickly pretend a tradition from the very apostles, and believe themselves so secure, that they could t Contra Marcion. de Coron. Milit. c. 3, 4. Apud Euseb. I. 5. c. 24.

"Ex translatione Christophorsoni.

not be discovered, because the question never having been disputed gives them occasion to say, that which had no beginning known, was certainly from the apostles. For why should not divines do in the question of reconfirmation as in that of rebaptization ? Are not the grounds equal from an indelible character in one as in the other ? and if it happen such a question as this after contestation should be determined, not by any positive decree, but by the cession of one part, and the authority and reputation of the other, does not the next age stand fair to be abused with a pretence of tradition, in the matter of reconfirmation, which never yet came to a serious question ? For so it was in the question of rebaptization, for which there was then no more evident tradition than there is now in the question of reconfirmation, as I proved formerly, but yet it was carried upon that title.

7. Fifthly : there is great variety in the probation of tradition, so that whatever is proved to be tradition, is not equally and alike credible; for nothing but universal tradition is of itself credible; other traditions in their just proportion, as they partake of the degrees of universality. Now that a tradition be universal, or, which is all one, that it be a credible testimony, St. Irenæus * requires that tradition should derive from all the churches apostolical. And therefore, according to this rule, there was no sufficient medium to determine the question about Easter, because the eastern and western churches had several traditions respectively, and both pretended from the apostles. Clemens Alexandrinus' says, it was a secret tradition from the apostles, that Christ preached but one year: but Irenæus’ says it did derive from heretics ; and says, that he, by tradition, first from St. John, and then from his disciples, received another tradition, that Christ was almost fifty years old when he died, and so by consequence preached almost twenty years: both of them were deceived, and so had all, that had believed the report of either, pretending tradition apostolical. Thus the custom, in the Latin church, of fasting on Saturday, was against that tradition which the Greeks had from the apostles; and therefore, by this division and want of consent, which was the true tradition, was so absolutely indeterminable, that both must needs lose much of their reputation. But how then, when not only particular churches, but single persons, are all the proof we have for a tradition ? And this often happened. I think St. Austin is the chief argument and authority we have for the assumption of the Virgin Mary; the baptism of infants is called a tradition by Origen alone at first, and from him by others. The procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son, which is an article the Greek church disavows, derives from the tradition apostolical, as it is pretended ; and yet before St. Austin we hear nothing of it very clearly or certainly, forasmuch as that whole mystery concerning the blessed Spirit, was so little explicated in Scripture, and so little derived to them by tradition, that, till the council of Nice, you shall hardly find any form of worship or personal address of devotion to the Holy Spirit, as Erasmus observes, and I think the contrary will hardly be verified. And for this particular in which I instance, whatsoever is in Scripture concerning it, is against that which the church of Rome calls tradition, which makes the Greeks so confident as they are of the point, and is an argument of the vanity of some things, which for no greater reason are called traditions, but because one man hath said so, and that they can be proved by no better argument to be true. Now in this case, wherein tradition descends upon us with unequal eertainty, it would be very unequal to require of us an absolute belief of every thing not written, for fear we be accounted to slight tradition apostolical. And since nothing can require our supreme assent, but that which is truly catholic and apostolic, and to such a tradition is required, as Irenæus says, the consent of all those churches which the apostles planted, and where they did preside, this topic will be of so little use in judging heresies, that (beside what is deposited in Scripture) it cannot be proved in any thing but in the canon of Scripture itself, and as it is now received, even in that there is some variety.

x Lib. 3. c. 4.

y Lib. 1. Stromat. z Lib. 2. c. 39. Omnes seniores testantur, qui in Asia apud Johannem, discipulum Domini, convenerunt, id ipsum tradidisse eis Johannem, &c. et qui alios apostolos viderunt, hæc eadem ab ipsis audierunt, et testantur de ejusmodi relatione. Salmeron. disput. 51. in Rom.

VOL. VIII,

8. And therefore, there is wholly a mistake in this business; for when the fathers appeal to tradition, and with much earnestness, and some clamour, they call upon hereties to conform to or to be tried by tradition, it is such a tra

૮૮

dition as delivers the fundamental points of Christianity, which were also recorded in Scripture. But because the canon was not yet perfectly consigned, they called to that testimony they had, which was the testimony of the churches apostolical, whose bishops and priests being the antistites religionis, did believe and preach Christian religion, and conserve all its great mysteries according as they have been taught. Irenæus calls this a tradition apostolical, Christum accepisse calicem, et dixisse sanguinem suum esse, et docuisse novam oblationem novi Testamenti, quam ecclesia per apostolos accipiens offert per totum mundum." And the fathers, in these ages, confute heretics by ecclesiastical tradition; that is, they confront against their impious and blasphemous doctrines that religion, which the apostles having taught to the churches where they did preside, their successors did still preach, and, for a long while together, suffered not the enemy to sow ţares amongst their wheat. And yet these doctrines, which they called traditions, were nothing but such fundamental truths which were in Scripture, πάντα σύμφωνα ταΐς γραφαΐς, as Ireneus in Eusebius * observes, in the instance of Polycarpus : and it is manifest by considering what heresies they fought against, the heresies of Ebion, Cerinthus, Nicolaitans, Valentinians, Carpocratians", persons that denied the Son of God, the unity of the Godhead, that preached impurity, that practised sorcery and witchcraft. And now that they did rather urge

tradition against them than Scripture, was, because the public doctrine of all the apostolical churches was at first more known and famous than many parts of the Scripture, and because some heretics denied St. Luke's Gospel, some received none but St. Matthew's, some rejected all St. Paul's epistles, and it was a long time before the whole canon was consigned by universal testimony, some churches having one part, some another, Rome herself had not all ; so that, in this case, the argument from tradition was the most famous, the most certain, and the most prudent. And now, according to this rule, they had more traditions than we have, and traditions did by degrees lessen as they came to be written ; and their necessity was less, as the knowledge of them was ascertained to us by a better keeper of divine truths. All that great Lib. 5. cap. 20.

b Vid. Irenæ. l. 3. et 4. cont, hæres.

a

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. Jeromed. 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

ertainly did derive from the apostles, are expired and gone { ut in a desuetude; such as are abstinence from blood and from things strangled ;-the cænobitic 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

Dialog. adv. Lucifer.

c 2 Pet. i. 13.

d

« PreviousContinue »