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having had most of the copies in their own hands, together with an unsatisfiable desire of prevailing in their right or in their wrong, they have made an absolute destruction of this topic : and when the fathers speak Latin ", or breathe in a Roman diocess, although the providence of God does infinitely overrule them, and that it is next to a miracle that in the monuments of antiquity there is no more found that can pretend for their advantage than there is, which indeed is infinitely inconsiderable; yet our questions and uncertainties are infinitely multiplied, instead of a probable and reasonable determination. For since the Latins always complained of the Greeks for privately corrupting the ancient records both of councils and fathers", and now the Latins make open profession not of corrupting, but of correcting, their writings (that is the word), and at the most it was but a human authority, and that of persons not always learned, and very often de.ceived; the whole matter is so unreasonable, that it is not worth a farther disquisition. But if any one desires to inquire farther, he may be satisfied in Erasmus, in Henry and Robert Stephens, in their prefaces before the editions of the Fathers, and their observations upon them; in Bellarm.'de Scrip. Eccl.;' in D. Reynolds ' de Lib. Apoc. ;' in Scaliger ; and Robert Coke, of Leeds in Yorkshire, in his book 'de Censura Patrum,
Of the Incompetency of the Church, in its diffusive Capacity, to be
Judge of Controversies; and the Impertinency of that Pretence
of the Spirit. 1. And now, after all these considerations of the several topics, tradition, councils, Popes, and ancient doctors of the church, I suppose it will not be necessary to consider the authority of the church apart. For the church either speaks by tradition, or by a representative body in a council, by Popes, or by the fathers : for the church is not a chimera, not a shadow, but a company of men believing in Jesus
m Videat Lector Andream Christoviam in Belļo Jesuitico, et Joh. Reynolds in lib. de idol. Rom.
^ Vid. Ep. Nicolai ad Michael. Imperat.
Christ; which men either speak by themselves immediately, or by their rulers, or by their proxies and representatives. Now I have considered it in all senses but in its diffusive capacity; in which capacity she cannot be supposed to be a judge of controversies, both because in that capacity she cannot teach us; as also, because if, by a judge, we mean all the church diffused in all its parts and members, so there can be no controversy: for if all men be of that opinion, then there is no question contested; if they be not all of a mind, how can the whole diffusive catholic church be pretended in defiance of any one article, where the diffusive church being divided, part goes this way, and part another? But if it be said, the greatest part must carry it (besides that it is impossible for us to know which way the greatest part goes in many questions), it is not always true that the greater part is the best; sometimes the contrary is most certain; and it is often very probable, but it is always possible. And when paucity of followers was objected to Liberius, he gave this in answer, There was a time, when but three children of the captivity resisted the king's decree'. And Athanasius wrote on purpose against those, that did judge of truth by multitudes: and indeed it concerned him so to do, when he alone stood in the gap against the numerous armies of the Arians P.
2. But if there could, in this case, be any distinct consideration of the church, yet to know which is the true church is so hard to be found out, that the greatest questions of Christendom are judged, before you can get to your judge; and then there is no need of him. For those questions which are concerning the judge of questions, must be determined before you can submit to his judgment; and if you can yourselves determine those great questions, which consist much in universalities, then also you may determine the particulars, as being of less difficulty. And he that considers how many notes there are given to know the true church by, no less than fifteen by Bellarmine, and concerning every one of them almost, whether it be a certain note or no, there are very many questions and uncertainties; and when it is resolved which are the notes, there is more dispute about the application of these notes than of the πρωτοκρινόJEVOV ;-will quickly be satisfied that he had better sit still . Theod. 1. 2. c. 16. hist.
P Tom. 2.
than to go round about a difficult and troublesome passage, and at last get no farther, but return to the place from whence he first set out. And there is one note amongst the rest, holiness of doctrine, that is, so as to have nothing false either in ' doctrina fidei' or ' morum' (for so Bellarmine explicates it), which supposes all your controversies judged before they can be tried by the authority of the church; and when we have found out all true doctrine (for that is necessary to judge of the church by, that, as St. Austin's counsel is, " Ecclesiam in verbis Christi investigemus"), then we are bound to follow, because we judge it true, not because the church hath said it: and this is to judge of the church by her doctrine, not of the doctrine by the church. And indeed it is the best and only way: but then how to judge of that doctrine will be afterward inquired into. In the meantime the church, that is, the governors of the churches, are to judge for themselves, and for all those who cannot judge for themselves. For others, they must know that their governors judge for them too, so as to keep them in peace and obedience, though not for the determination of their private persuasions. For the economy of the church requires, that her authority be received by all her children. Now this authority is Divine in its original, for it derives immediately from Christ; but it is human in its ministration. We are to be led like men, not like beasts. A rule is prescribed for the guides themselves to follow, as we are to follow the guides: and although, in matters indeterminable or ambiguous, the presumption lies on behalf of the governors (for we do nothing for authority, if we suffer it not to weigh that part down of an indifferency and a question which she chooses); yet if there be error manifestus,' as it often happens; or if the church-governors themselves be rent into innumerable sects, as it is this day in Christendom;—then we are to be as wise as we can in choosing our guides, and then to follow so long as that reason remains, for which we first chose them. And even in that government, which was an immediate sanction of God, I mean the ecclesiastical government of the synagogue (where God had consigned the high-priest's authority with a menace of death to them that should disobey, that all the world might know the meaning and ex. tent of such precepts, and that there is a limit beyond which
they cannot command, and we ought not to obey), it came once to that pass, that if the priest had been obeyed in his conciliar decrees, the whole nation had been bound to believe the condemnation of our blessed Saviour to have been just; and at another time the apostles must no more have preached in the name of Jesys. But here was manifest error. And the case is the same to every man, that invincibly, and therefore innocently, believes it so. “ Dea potiùs quàm hominibus,” is our rule in such cases. For although every man is bound to follow his guide, unless he believes his guide to mislead him; yet when he sees reason against his guide, it is best to follow his reason: for though in this he may fall into error, yet he will escape the sin; he may do violence to truth, but never to his own conscience; and an honest error is better than an hypocritical profession of truth, or a violent luxation of the understanding; since if he retains his honesty and simplicity, he cannot err in a matter of faith or absolute necessity : God's goodness hath secured all honest and careful persons from that; for other things, he must follow the best guides he can; and he cannot be obliged to follow better than God hath given him.
3. And there is yet another way pretended of infallible expositions of Scripture, and that is, by the Spirit. But of this I shall say no more, but that it is impertinent as to this question. For put the case, the Spirit is given to some men, enabling them to expound infallibly; yet because this is but a private assistance, and cannot be proved to others,--this infallible assistance may determine my own assent, but shall not enable me to prescribe to others; because it were unreasonable I should, unless I could prove to him that I have the Spirit, and so can secure him from being deceived if he relies upon me. In this case I may say, as St. Paul in the case of praying with the Spirit; “ He verily giveth thanks well, but the other is not edified.” So that let this pretence be as true as it will, it is sufficient that it cannot be of consideration in this question.
4. The result of all is this: since it is not reasonable to limit and prescribe to all men's understandings by any external rule in the interpretation of difficult places of Seripture, which is our rule; --since no man nor company of men is secure from error, or can secure us that they are free from malice, interest, and design ;-and since all the ways by which we usually are taught, as tradition, councils, decretals, &c. are very uncertain in the matter, in their authority, in their being legitimate and natural, and many of them certainly false, and nothing certain but the divine authority of Scripture, in which all that is necessary is plain, and much of that that is not necessary, is very obscure, intricate, and involved :-either we must set up our rest only upon articles of faith and plain places, and be incurious of other obscurer revelations (which is a duty for persons of private understandings, and of no public function); or if we will search farther (to which in some measure the guides of others are obliged), it remains we inquire how men may determine themselves, so as to do their duty to God, and not to disserve the church, that every such man may do what he is bound to in his personal capacity, and as he relates to the public as a public minister.
Of the Authority of Reason; and that it, proceeding upon best
Grounds, is the best Judge. 1. Here then I consider, that although no man may be trusted to judge for all others, unless this person were infallible and authorized so to do, which no man nor no company of men is; yet every man may be trusted to judge for himself, I say, every man that can judge at all; as for others, they are to be saved as it pleaseth God: but others that can judge at all, must either choose their guides who shall judge for them, and then they oftentimes do the wisest, and always save themselves a labour, but then they choose too; or if they be persons of greater understanding, then they are to choose for themselves in particular what the others do in general, and by choosing their guide : and for this any man may be better trusted for himself, than any man can be for another. For in this case, his own interest is most concerned ; and ability is not so necessary as honesty, which certainly every man will best preserve in his own case, and to himself,-and if he