« PreviousContinue »
signation does not warrant every thing that pretends to trådition, 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 mata ters 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 prós mised 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 m St. Athanasius n, St. Hilaryo, St. Epiphanius p, 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 herétic, 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 ;
k Orat. at Nicen. pp. Apud Theodor. 1. 1. c. 4. | In Matt. 1. 4. c. 23. et in Aggæum.
m De bono viduel. c. 1, n Orat. cont. Gent. p Lib. 2. contra hæres. tom. 1. hær. 61. I i Cor. iv,
o In Psal. cxxxii.
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 im. maturity 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 niust 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 guéssed at them, and conjectured by way of rule and discourse, and not of their knowa ledge, not by evidence of the 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 testiinony 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 derive 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 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 Ecclesias
tical 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 And if any pri
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. vate 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
as charity, and therefore consists in liberty and choice, and hath nothing in it of necessity: there is no question but that they are obliged to proceed according to some rule; for they expect no assistance by way of enthusiasm ; if they should, I know no warrant for that, neither did any general council ever offer a decree which they did not think sufficiently proved by Scripture, reason, or tradition, as appears in the acts of the councils; now then, if they be tied to cons ditions, it is their duty to observe them; but whether it be certain that they will observe them, that they will do all their duty, that they will not sin even in this particular in the neglect of their duty, that is the consideration. So that if any man questions the title and authority of general councils, and whether or no great promises appertain to them, I suppose him to be much mistaken ; but he also that thinks all of them have proceeded according to rule and reason, and that none of them were deceived, because possibly they might have been truly directed, -is a stranger to the history of the church, and to the perpetual instances and experiments of the faults and failings of humanity. It is a famous saying of St. Gregory, that he had the four first councils in esteem and veneration next to the four evangelists; I suppose it was because he did believe them to have proceeded according to rule, and to have judged righteous judgment; but why had he not the same opinion of other councils too, which were celebrated before his death, (for he lived after the fifth general) ? not because they had not the same authority; for that which is warrant for one, is warrant for all ; but because he was not so confident that they did their duty, nor proceeded so without interest as the first four had done, and the following councils did never get that reputation, which all the catholic church acknowledged due to the first four. And in the next order were the three following generals ; for the Greeks and Latins did never jointly acknowledge but seven generals to have been authentic in any sense, because they were in no sense agreed that any more than seven had proceeded regularly, and done their duty: so that now the question is not whether general councils have a promise that the Holy Ghost will assist them: for every private man hath that promise, that if he does his duty, he shall be assisted sufficiently in order to that end to