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mony of a few Fathers can be taken as such sufficient evidence of the doctrine orally taught by the Apostles, or the universal Church, in matters of faith or practice, as to be considered a divine informant supplementary to Scripture, we do not deny, but on the contrary maintain, that the testimony of the early Fathers respecting facts and practices of which their senses were cognizant, is sufficient to assure us that such facts and practices took place in their time in the primitive Church, just as we might receive the testimony of our opponents as quite sufficient respecting facts and practices of our Church, of which their senses had been cognizant, while we took leave altogether to deny its sufficiency as a witness of the doctrines of our Church.
And, thirdly, we maintain that the usage of the primitive orthodox Church from Apostolical times (as far as it can be ascertained) may justly be taken as a guide to show us how rites and practices enjoined in Scripture are to be carried into effect; and also as a guide to a certain extent in its general rites and practices, that is, so far as to recommend them to our attention, and perhaps to justify modern Churches in following them, inasmuch as it is not probable that, from the very first, the orthodox Church should have adopted a superstitious or improper usage. It is on this ground that our Church defends her use of the sign of the cross, as-not necessary, but-justifiable.1 And, consequently, we receive with respect the traditions of the primitive Church on such points, " meaning by traditions," as Hooker says, " ordinances made in the prime of Christian religion, established with that authority which Christ hath left to his Church for matters indifferent, and in that consideration requisite to be observed till like authority see just and reasonable cause to alter them. So that traditions ecclesiastical are not rudely and in gross to be shaken off, because the inventors of them were men."2
And thus, as it respects rites and usages, the practice of the primitive Church, ascertained to us by the testi
mony of its writings, may be a useful guide to us, both where Scripture is silent, and where it does not enter so fully into particulars as to show how the rites and ceremonies mentioned in it are to be carried out in all
But we maintain, with our Church, that those rites and ordinances only are essentially binding upon all Churches and individuals that are required by Scripture authority; because no others can be proved to have been established by the Apostles; and we shall show hereafter, that all the moderns who profess to hold a contrary opinion are convicted by their own conduct of inconsistency; for they who maintain, that a few patristical assertions, that this or that rite was established by the Apostles, or observed by the primitive Church, are to be taken as sufficient evidence of its Apostolical origin and binding nature, ought to contend for all those that are so supported.
And if even the testimony of antiquity on one or two points enjoined in Scripture should be considered sufficient to have proved their apostolicity in the absence of Scripture testimony for them, this would make no practical difference in our argument. For the great question is, whether Scripture does not fully and clearly reveal all the fundamental points of faith and practice, and whether there is any point of faith or practice not revealed in Scripture for which a traditional testimony can be adduced sufficient to show its Apostolical origin.
Our Church has wisely taken in this matter the middle course between that of the Romanists and that of our early Nonconformists, the former professing to take the statements of the remaining Fathers as an unerring guide, and the latter holding "that Scripture is the only rule of all things which in this life may be done by men," 1 and both of them in their practice acting very inconsistently with their professed principles. When, therefore, the latter demanded that nothing should be re
1 See Hooker, Eccl. Pol. bk. ii.
quired by the Church but what was laid down in Scripture, because those precepts only can be proved to be Apostolical, and therefore essentially binding, that are found in Scripture, our Church, while fully admitting the truth of the latter proposition, denied the justice of the demand, claiming a power to ordain rites and ceremonies such as might be necessary for the preservation of order and decency, and require their observance of her members; and to cut off as much as possible all occasion for cavilling, as well as from the inherent propriety of such a course, adhered as closely as possible to the primitive model.
The reader will observe, then, that when admitting the non-necessity of any ecclesiastical ordinances, rites, or observances, I am speaking with reference either to the Church at large, or some distinct and independent portion of it; and, with respect to such bodies, certainly maintain, that they are not bound by any injunctions but those of Scripture. With individuals, however, the case is different. We hold with our Articles, that every Church has power to appoint its rites and ceremonies, and that its members are bound (within reasonable limits) to submit to such appointment. The conduct of the early Nonconformists, therefore, in objecting to the observance of days that had been set apart by our Church with the sanction of the Universal Church in all ages, as far as we can find, for religious uses, appears to me peculiarly schismatical. And further we maintain, that every such body has authority in controversies of faith, so far as concerns its own members, and may justly make a re
It might also probably be fairly maintained, that when such a Council as that which met at Nice (the only one by the way having any pretensions to be called General) gave directions such as were there given respecting the day on which Easter was to be observed, it was expedient and befitting the Christian character, that all the different Churches should acquiesce in such an appointment until a similar authority had authorized an alteration; though nevertheless optional, because different Churches might have different customs in such matters, without any detriment to the peace of the Church, if there had been no ecclesiastical tyrants to make it a cause of dissension. See Socr. Hist. Eccl. lib. v. c. 22. Sozom. Hist. Eccl. lib. vii. c. 19.
ception of what it considers the fundamentals of the faith essential to communion, nay, rather, is bound to do so; and while it allows a latitude of opinion on all other points, may, if it seem necessary for the good of the body at large, silence public disputations even on non-essential points. But this power should not only be cautiously exercised, but by the clear and well-ascertained voice of the whole body, for the obtaining of which (I feel constrained to add) due care has seldom been taken.
We allow, then, that the Church has power to enjoin upon her members the observance of certain decent rites and ceremonies, and that such a power has been given her by God; but we draw a distinction between that which God has enjoined on this head, and that which the Church has enjoined. The latter is not to be put forward as necessary to salvation, nor therefore to membership in the Church Catholic, though he who breaks the unity of the Church on account of such things only, is certainly guilty of the sin of making a needless schism in the body.
With respect, therefore, to the examples here adduced by our opponents, in which the practice of the Church is concerned, we may say generally that our appeal to the records of the primitive Church respecting them (where we do so appeal) is not an appeal to the doctrine there delivered, as if the few testimonies we can bring from the antient Fathers were sufficient evidence of the oral teaching of the Apostles, or of the doctrinal teaching of the Universal Church; but an appeal to them, as showing what was the practice of the Church in those times. And this precisely agrees with what Mr. Keble himself has admitted to be Bishop Taylor's view, viz. that " in practical matters, it [i. e. tradition] may be verified, but in doctrinal, with the exception of the creed, it cannot," which entirely overthrows Mr. Keble's system.
We refer to those records, as showing what was the practice of the primitive Church; which, on the one hand, may show us what rites or usages mentioned 1 App. to Serm. p. 71.
taken as a proof that such rite was not prescribed for its observance by the Apostles.
Let us pass on to the case of rites and ordinances observed by us.
The First is the doctrine of infant baptism.
It will not be denied that we have at least the doctrine of baptism clearly enough laid down in the Scriptures.
What we have to inquire, then, is, whether we can also clearly and plainly gather from the Scriptures that infants are proper subjects of that rite.
It must be observed, however, that the question does not respect all infants indiscriminately, but those only that are born of believing parents, and so in a state different to those of the heathen, (1 Cor. vii. 14,) and are also presented to the Church by sureties, who undertake that they shall be educated in her communion.1 The question, then, is, whether the Church is right in administering to an infant brought to her under such circumstances, and that cannot, like an adult, offer any obstacle to its reception of spiritual blessings by unbelief, that rite which is a necessary introduction to its admission into the Christian Church, and consequently to its being placed in a position to receive the blessings promised by God exclusively to the members of the Church, and looking to God for his blessing upon it, the Church on her part undertaking to God (on the promise of the child's sureties) that the child shall be taught the terms of his covenant, and be brought up in obedience to it, and be called upon at the age of discretion personally to accept and promise obedience to it.
(1) Then we observe, that the command to baptize, and the instances we have in Scripture of the practice, are given in the most general and comprehensive terms. baptiz"Go and teach all nations," saith our Lord, "
1 Cases may be supposed different from that mentioned above, where we might not be prepared to deny that baptism might be administered, as, for instance, the possible case of an infant losing its unbelieving parents, and coming thereby under the guardianship of Christian relations or friends; but such are extraordinary cases, upon which no argument can be built.