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rive 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 Ecclesiastical 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
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. And if any private 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 conditions, 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 not he 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
which he needs assistance; and therefore much more shall general councils, in order to that end for which they convene, and to which they need assistance, that is, in order to the conservation of the faith, for the doctrinal rules of good life, and all that concerns the essential duty of a Christian, but not in deciding questions to satisfy contentious, or curious, or presumptuous spirits. But now can the bishops so convened be factious,-can they be abused with prejudice, or transported with interests,-can they resist the Holy Ghost,can they extinguish the Spirit,-can they stop their ears, and serve themselves upon the Holy Spirit and the pretence of his assistances; and cease to serve them upon themselves, by captivating their understandings to his dictates, and their wills to his precepts? Is it necessary they should perform any condition? is there any one duty for them to perform in these assemblies, a duty which they have power to do or not to do? If so, then they may fail of it, and not do their duty: and if the assistance of the Holy Spirit be conditional, then we have no more assurance that they are assisted, than that they do their duty, and do not sin.
2. Now let us suppose what this duty is : certainly, “if the gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost ;' and all that come to the knowledge of the truth, must come to it by such means which are spiritual and holy dispositions, in order to a holy and spiritual end. They must be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,' that is, they must have peaceable and docible dispositions, nothing with them that is violent and resolute to encounter those gentle and sweet assistances : and the rule they are to follow, is the rule which the Holy Spirit hath consigned to the catholic church, that is, the Holy Scripture, either entirely', or at least for the greater part of the rule : so that now if the bishops be factious and prepossessed with persuasions depending upon interest, it is certain they may judge amiss; and if they recede from the rule, it is certain they do judge amiss: and this I say upon their grounds who most advance the authority of general councils : for if a general council may err if a Pope confirm it not, then most certainly if in any thing it recede from Scripture, it does also err; because that they are to expect the Pope's confirmation they
+ Vid. Oplat. Milev. I. 5. adv. Parm. Baldvin, in eundem. et S. August. in ps. 21. Espos. 2.
offer to prove from Scripture : now if the Pope's confirmation be required by authority of Scripture, and that therefore the defailance of it does evacuate the authority of the council, then also are the councils' decrees invalid, if they recede from any other part of Scripture : so that Scripture is the rule they are to follow, and a man would have thought it had been needless to have proved it, but that we are fallen into ages in which no truth is certain, no reason concluding, nor is there any thing that can convince some men. For Stapleton”, with extreme boldness against the piety of Christendom, against the public sense of the ancient church, and the practice of all pious assemblies of bishops, affirms the decrees of a council to be binding, “Etiamsi non confirmetur ne probabili testimonio Scripturarum ;" nay, though it be quite ' extra Scripturam;' but all wise and good men have ever said that sense which St. Hilary expressed in these words, ' Quæ extra evangelium sunt, non defendam;" this was it which the good emperor Constantine propounded to the fathers met at Nice ; “ Libri Evangelici, oracula apostolorum, et veterum prophetarum clare nos instruunt quid sentiendum in divinist.” And this is confessed by a sober man of the Roman church itself, the cardinal of Cusa; “ Oportet quod omnia talia quæ legere debent, contineantur in autoritatibus sacrarum Scripturarumų.” Now then all the advantage I shall take from hence, is this, that if the Apostles commended them who examined their sermons' by their conformity to the law and the prophets, and the men of Berea were account. ed “noble for searching the Scriptures, whether those things which they taught, were so or no;" I suppose it will not be denied, but the councils' decrees may also be tried whether they be conform to Scripture, yea or no; and although no man can take cognizance and judge the decrees of a council * pro autoritate publica,' yet pro informatione privata,' they may; the authority of a council is not greater than the authority of the apostles, nor their dictates more sacred or authentic. Now then put case a council should recede from Scripture; whether or no were we bound to believe its decrees? I only ask the question : for it were hard to be bound to believe what to our understanding seems contrary to that
• Relect, controv. 4. q. 1. a. 3. i Lib. 2. ad Constant. Apud Theod. 1. 1. c. 7.
u Concord. Cathol. 1. 2. c. 10.