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he neither can want it (because Scripture is a perfect rule),
nor can have it (because it cannot in any one of our questions
be proved), we must rely upon what we have. It is in the
matter of traditions as in the epistle of St. Paul to Laodicea :
if this or those were extant and sufficiently transmitted and
consigned to us, they would make up the canon as well as
those we have ; but there is no such thing as the Laodicean
epistle, and there is no such thing as tradition of doctrines
of faith not contained in Scriptures. The fathers that had
them, or thought they had them, might call upon their
churches to make use of them ; but we that cannot have them,
must use what we have : and we have reason to give thanks
to God, that we have all that God intended to be our rule.
God gave us in Scripture all that was necessary ; it was a
perfect rule ; and yet if it had not, it must become so when
we have no other.

36. But, upon the matter of this argument, there are
three questions to be considered in order to faith and con-

1. Whether there be not any rules and general measures
of discerning tradition, by which although tradition cannot
be proved the natural way, that is, by its own light, evidence
of fact and notoriety, yet we may be reasonably induced to
believe, that any particular is descended from tradition apo-
stolical, and consequently is to be taken in, to integrate the
rule of conscience ?

2. How far a negative argument from Scripture is valid,
and obligatory to conscience ?

3. Whether there may be any new articles of faith or
that the creed of the Church may so increase, that what
is sufficient to salvation in one age cannot serve in an-
other ?



Question I. is concerning the indirect ways of
discerning traditions.

37. In vain it is to dispute, whether traditions are to in-
tegrate the canon of Scripture, when it cannot be made to
appear that there are any such things as apostolical tra-
ditions of doctrines not contained in Scripture. For since
the succession in all the chairs hath been either interrupted
or disordered by wars or heresies, by interest or time, by de-
sign or by ignorance, by carelessness or inconsideration, by
forgetfulness or unavoidable mistake, by having no necessity
of tradition, and by not delivering any, it is in vain to
dispute concerning the stability of atoms, which as of them-
selves they are volatile and unfixed, so they have no basis but
the light air, and so are traditions : themselves are no argu-
ment, and there are no traditions ; they are no necessary or
competent stabiliment of doctrine or manners ; or, if they
were, themselves have no stabiliment.

38. For it is certain, there can be no tradition received
for apostolical at a less rate than the rule of Vincentius
Lirinensis. For to prove by Scripture that there are any
traditions not written in Scripture, is a trifling folly ; since
there might be necessity of keeping traditions, before all
that which is necessary was set down in writing. So that all
the pretensions, taken from Scripture in behalf of traditions,
are absolutely to no purpose, unless it were there said,
' There are some things which we now preach to you which
shall never be written ; keep them :' but the naming of
" traditions" in some books of Scripture, and the recom-
mending them in others, is no argument to us to inquire
after them, or to rely upon them ; unless that which was
delivered by sermon was never to be delivered by writing,
and that we knew it as certainly as that which is. And the
same is to be said of the sayings of fathers who recommend
traditions ; for although the argument lessened every year,
yet it was better then than it can be now ; it could serve
some uses then, it can serve none now ; it might in some in-
stances be certain and safe in many, but now it cannot be
either, neither certain, nor safe, nor necessary, nor of any use
at all; which having been made to appear in the preceding
numbers, it must follow that there can be no doctrinal tradi-
tions besides the matters of Scripture ; because there are none


such recommended to the Church by the measures of Vincen-
tius Lirinensis. There is no doctrine, no rule of faith or
manners, which is not in the Holy Scriptures, and yet which
was ' believed always, and in all churches, and of all men in
those churches/ For although it is very probable that
Vincentius, by this rule, intended to reprove the novelties
and unusual doctrines which St. Austin, by his great wit and
great reputation, had brought into the Church, contrary to
the sentiments and doctrines of the fathers which were before
him ; yet it will perfectly serve to reprove all our late
pretensions to traditions. For by this measure, we find it
not to be enough, that a doctrine hath been received for a
thousand years together by the catholic Church, reckoning
from his period upwards ; unless it were also received by
the apostolical ages and churches throughout the world, it is
nothing ; and if it were received by all the apostolical
churches, and all good and wise men in those churches, and
so downwards, wherever any church failed it was to their
own prejudice, not to the prejudice of the doctrine : for that
was apostolical which was from the beginning ; and whatso-
ever came after, could not change what was so before ; and
the interruption of an apostolical truth, though for a thou-
sand years together, cannot annul the obligation, or intro-
duce the contrary. So that if we begin to account by this
rule of Vincentius and go backwards, it is nothing unless
we go back as far as to the apostles inclusively : but if we
begin there, and make that clear, it matters not how little a
way it descends : and therefore although it is an excellent
rule to reprove vain and novel pretensions, yet there is
nothing to be proved by it practicably : for we need not
walk along the banks and intrigues of Volga, if we can at
first point to the fountain ; it is that whither the long pro-
gression did intend to lead us. If any thing fails in the
principle, it is good for nothing ; but if the tradition derive
from the fountain, and the head be visible, though afterward
it run under ground, it is well enough. For if a doctrine
might invade the whole Church which was not preached by
the apostles, or if the doctrine might to many good and wise
persons seem to have possessed the whole Church, that is, to
be believed by all those that he knows, or hears of, or con-
verses with, and yet not have been the doctrine of the


apostles ; it is certain that this universality, and any less than
that which takes in the apostles, can never be sufficient
warranty for an article of faith or a rule of life, that is, the
instance and obligation of a duty necessary to salvation.
But how shall we know concerning any doctrine whether it
be a tradition apostolical ? Here the rule of Vincentius comes
in. If it can be made to appear, that all churches and all
men did, from the apostles' times down to the time of in-
quiry, accept it as true, and report it from the apostles,
then it is to be so received and continued. Indeed a less
series and succession will serve. For if we can be made
sure, that the age next to the apostles did universally receive
it as from the apostles, then we may not reject it. But what
can make faith in this ? certainly nothing ; for there is no
doctrine so delivered but what is in Scripture. Indeed
some practices and rituals are, because the public exercise
and usages of the Church being united and notorious, public
and acted, might make the right evident as light ; but in doc-
trines (besides Scriptures) we have not records enough to do
it, and therefore this general rule of Vincentius not being
practicable, and the other lesser rules or conjectures rather
being incompetent, PSVU/J.SV u<sxtg laytb, " we must remain as
we are," and give God thanks for the treasures of Holy Scrip-
ture, and rejoice and walk in the light of it.

39. But let us try a little. The first rule which is usually
given is this ; * That which the catholic Church believes as an
article of faith, which is not found in Scriptures, is to be
believed to descend from apostolical tradition.' This rule is
false and insufficient upon many accounts.

1. For if the Church can err, then this rule can have no
firmament or foundation. If she cannot err, then there is no
need either of Scriptures or tradition ; and there is no use of
any other argument to prove the truth of an article or the
divinity of a truth, but the present belief and affirmation of
the Church, for that is sufficient whether it be written or not
written, whether it be delivered or not.

But, 2. Supposing the Church could not err in matters of
faith, yet no man says but she may err in matter of fact : but
whether this thing was delivered by the apostles is matter of
fact ; and therefore though the Church were assisted so that
she could not mistake her article, yet she may mistake her


argument and instrument of probation ; the conclusion may
be true, and yet the premises false : and she might be taught
by the Spirit, and not by the apostles.

3. No man now knows what the catholic Church does be-
lieve in any question of controversy ; for the catholic Church
is not to be spoken with ; and being divided by seas, and
nations, and interests, and fears, and tyrants, and poverty, and
innumerable accidents, does not declare her mind by any
common instrument, and agrees in nothing but in the apo-
stles' creed, and the books of Scripture ; and millions of Christ-
ians hear nothing of our controversies, and, if they did, would
not understand some of them.

4. There are thousands that do believe such an article to
be taught by the catholic Church, and yet the catholic Church
with them is nothing but their own party ; for all that believe
otherwise, they are pleased to call heretics. So that this rule
may serve every party that is great, and every party that is
little, if they add pride and contumacy to their article : and
what would this article have signified amongst the Donatists,
to whom all the world was heretic but themselves ? and what
would it signify amongst those peevish little sects, that damn
all the world but their own congregations ? even as little as
it can to the Church of Rome, who are resolved to call no
church ' catholic' but their own.

5. The believing of such an article of faith could not be
indication of a true catholic, that is, of a true member of the
catholic Church ; because if the article is to be proved to be
apostolical by the present belief of the catholic Church, either
the catholic Church is the whole Christian Church, and then
we can never tell what she believes in a particular question
(and indeed she believes nothing in the question, because if it
be a question the catholic Church is divided in her sense of it) ;
or else the catholic Church is some body or church of Christ-
ians separate from the rest, and then she must by other
means be first known that she is the catholic Church, before
we can accept her belief to be an argument that the article is
an apostolical tradition. Add to this, that the Church's be-
lieving it is not, cannot be, an argument that the doctrine
is apostolical ; but, on the contrary, it ought to be proved to
be apostolical, before it is to be admitted by the churches.
And if it be answered, that ' so it was to those churches who


admitted it first, but to us it ought to be sufficient that the
Church received it, and we ought therefore to conclude it to
be apostolical ;' I reply that it was well if it was first proved
to the Church to be apostolical ; but then if the Primitive
Church would not receive the doctrine without such evidence,
it is a sign that this was the right way of proceeding, and
therefore so it ought to be with us ; they would not receive
any doctrine, unless it were proved to come from the apostles ;
and why should we ? and to say that ' because they received
it, we ought to suppose it to have been apostolical,' I say, that
is to beg the question ; for when we make a question whether
the Church did well to receive this doctrine, we mean, whether
they did receive it from the apostles or no. And therefore
to argue from their receiving it, that it was apostolical, is to
answer my question by telling me, ' I ought to suppose that,
and to make no question of it.' But if this rule should pre-
vail, we must believe things which even to affirm were im-
pudent. The Church of Rome, calling herself the catholic
Church, affirms it to be heresy to say that ' it is necessary to
give the communion under both kinds to the laity;' but he
that will from hence, though he believe that church to be the
catholic, conclude that doctrine to be the apostolic ; must
have great ignorance or too great a confidence. Nay, this
rule is in nothing more apparently confuted than in this in-
stance : for the canon in the Council of Constance, which
establishes this for catholic doctrine, by confessing it was
otherwise instituted by Christ, and otherwise practised at
the beginning, confesses it not to be apostolic. So that,
upon this account, it is obvious to conclude, that either the
universal Church can err, or else the same thing can come and
cannot come from tradition apostolical. For the half-com-
munion is nowhere commanded in Scripture ; therefore
either the ancient catholic Church did err in commanding; the


whole communion, or the modern catholic Church (I mean
the Roman, which pretends to the name) does err in forbid-
ding it ; or else, if neither do err, then the communion under
both kinds did come and did not come from tradition

But, 6. Suppose it were agreed, that one congregation is
the catholic Church, and resolved upon which is that congre-
gation, yet if it be but a part of Christians, and that inter-


ested, it is not in the nature of the thing to infer, that because
this interested divided part believes it, therefore the apostles
taught it : this consequent is not in the bowels of that ante-
cedent, it cannot be proved by this argument: if it can be
proved by revelation, that what the present Church believes,
was a tradition apostolical, let it be shewn, and there is an
end of it. In the meantime this rule is not of itself certain,
or fit to be the proof of what is uncertain, and, therefore, not
a good rule, till it be proved by revelation.

7. It is evidently certain, that what one age believes as
a necessary doctrine, another age (I mean of the catholic
Church) did not believe for such ; and it is not sufficient for
the making of a catholic doctrine that it be " ubique,"
" believed every where," unless it be also " semper et ab om-
nibus, always and by all men." I instance in the commu-
nicating of infants, which was the doctrine of St. Austin and
of Pope Innocentius, and prevailed in the Church for six
hundred years (says Maldonat' 1 the Jesuit), that it was neces-
sary to the salvation of infants, that they should receive the
holy sacrament of the Lord's supper. Now it is also as cer-
tain that for six hundred years more, the Church, which calls
herself catholic, believed the contrary. Which of these can
prove apostolical tradition? for if it be objected, that this
was not the doctrine of the catholic Church in those ages, in
which the most eminent fathers did believe and practise it,
besides, that it is not probable that they would teach it to be
necessary, and generally practise it in their churches, if the
matter had been nothing but their own opinion, and disputed
by others ; I add this also, that it was as much the doctrine
of the catholic Church that it was necessary, as it is now
that it is not necessary : for it is certain the holy fathers did
believe, and teach, and practise it, and the contrary was not
disputed ; but now though it be condemned by some, it is
still practised by very great parts of the catholic Church,
even by all the Greek Church, and by those vast numbers of
Christians in Ethiopia. 1 So that although no doctrinal tra-
dition is universally received but what is contained in Scrip-
tures ; yet those that have been received as universally as any
other matter of question is, have been, and have not been,

h In c. vi. Joban. n. 116.

1 Vide Hierom. Putriar. Constantinop. Doctr. et Exhor. ad Germanos.


believed by the Church in several ages : and therefore, if this
rule be good, they must prove that the same doctrine was
and was not a tradition apostolical.

8. This rule were good (and then indeed only) if there
were no way to make an opinion to be universally received
but by derivation from the apostles. But, (1.) There are some
which say, ' Every age hath new revelations : ' where this is
believed, it is apparent, an opinion, which the apostles never
heard of, may be adopted into the faith and universally
received. But, besides this, there are more ways of entry for
a popular error than any man can reckon or any experience
can observe. (2.) It is not impossible, that some leading man
may be credulous and apt to be imposed upon by heretics
and knaves ; but when he hath weakly received it, it shall
proceed strongly upon his authority. The matter of Papias
about the doctrine of the Chiliasts is notorious in this parti-
cular. (3.) It is also very possible, that what is found at
first to be good, shall be earnestly pressed by a zealous man,
and he may over-express himself, and consider not to what
consequence it may afterward be extended ; and then fol-
lowing ages may observe it, and make a logical conclusion
from a rhetorical expression ; and then what only good men
had entertained when it was called useful, all men shall re-
ceive when it is called necessary ; and it is no great progres-
sion from what all men believe good, that some men should
believe necessary, and from them others, and from others all
men. It was thus, in many degrees, in the matter of confes-
sion and penance. (4.) It is not very unlikely, certainly it is
no way impossible, but that the reputation of some great
man in the Church, may prevail so far by our weaknesses and
his own accidental advantages, that what no man at first
questions, very many will afterward believe, and they intro-
duce more ; and from more to most, and from most to all
men, are no impossible progressions, if we consider how
much mankind, especially in theology, have suffered the
authority of a few men to prevail upon them. (5.) Does not all
the world see that zeal makes men impatient of contradiction,
and that impatience makes them fierce in disputing, and
fierce in fighting, and ready to persecute their enemies ? and
what that unity and universality are which can be introduced
by force, a great part of the world hath had too long an


experience to be ignorant. 6. Beyond all this, a proposition
may be supposed to follow from an apostolical tradition, and
prevail very much upon that account ; and yet it would be
hard to believe the scholar's deduction equally with the mas-
ter's principle, and a probable inference from tradition equal
to the very affirmative of the apostles. A man may argue,
and argue well too, and yet the conclusion will not be so
evident as the principle : but that it may equally prevail, is
so certain, that no man can deny it but he that had never
any testimony of the confidence of a disputing man, and the
compliance of those who know not so well, or inquire not so
strictly, or examine not suspiciously, or judge not wisely.

40. (2.) The next rule which is pretended for the discovery
of an apostolical tradition, is this, ' That which the univer-
sal Church observes, which none could appoint but God, and
is not found in Scripture, it is necessary to say that it was
delivered by Christ and his apostles.' This rule must needs
be false, because it does actually deceive them that rely upon
it. Because their church, which they will fondly suppose to
be the catholic, uses certain sacramentals to confer grace
(which none could institute but Christ, who alone is the
fountain of grace), and the Holy Spirit to his servants : but
yet to pretend that they are traditions apostolical were the
greatest unreasonableness in the world. I instance in holy
water, baptizing of bells, hallowing of Agnus Deis, roses,
swords, hats, chrism, and the like, which no man can fairly
pretend to be traditions apostolical, but yet they are practised
by all their catholic Church, and they are of such things as
no man but God could be the author of, if they were good
for any thing ; but then to conclude from hence that they
are traditions apostolical, were just as if one were to give a
sign how to know whether lying were lawful or unlawful,
and for the determination of this question should give this
rule, ' Whatsoever mankind does universally which they
ought not to do without God's law, that certainly they have
a law from God to do ; ' but all mankind are given to lying,
and yet nothing can make it lawful to lie, unless there be a
warranty or no prohibition from God to lie ; therefore certain
it is, that to lie descends from the authority of God. Indeed
if the catholic Church could not be uncharitable, if they could
not sin against God, then it were certain, if they all did it,


and it were not warranted in Scripture, it must be from God :
but it does not follow, it would be by tradition ; because it
may be by tbe dictate of right reason, by natural principles,
or it would be a thing indifferent ; but that it must be by
tradition, if it were not by Scripture, or by the Church, were
as if we should say, * If Laelaps be not a horse, or begotten by
a lion, he must needs be a bear:' but these rules are like dead
men's candles, they come from no certain cause, and signify
no determined effect ; and whether they be at all, we are no
surer than the reports of timorous or fantastic persons can
make us. But this rule differs not at all from the former,
save only, that speaks of doctrinal and this of ritual tradi-
tions : but both relying upon the same reason, and that reason
failing (as 1 have proved), the propositions themselves do
fail. But then as to rites, it is notorious beyond a denial,
that some rites used in the universal Church, which are also
said to be such which none ought to appoint but God, were
not delivered by the apostles. I instance in the singularity
of baptism of heretics, which the whole Church now adheres
to, and yet if this descended from apostolical tradition, it was
more than St. Cyprian or the African Churches knew of, for
they rebaptized heretics, and disputed it very earnestly, and
lived in it very pertinaciously, and died in the opinion.

41. (3.) The third rule is, ' Whatsoever the catholic
Church hath kept in all ages bygone, may rightly be believed
to have descended from the apostles, though it be such a
thing which might have been instituted by the Church.'
This rule is the same with that of Lirinensis, of which I have
already given account: and certainly in those things in
which it can be made use of (which are extremely few), it is
the best, and indeed the only good one. But then this can
relate only to rituals, not to matter of doctrine ; for nothing
of this can be of ecclesiastical institution and appointment:
it cannot be a doctrine of faith unless it be of Divine tradi-
tion ; for Christ is the author and finisher of our faith, which
the Church is to preach and believe, not to enlarge or shorten,
not to alter or diversify. But then as to rituals, the keep-
ing of Easter on the first day of the week by this rule cannot
be proved to be an apostolical tradition ; because the Asian
churches kept it otherwise : and by this rule the keeping of
Lent-fast for forty days will not be found to be an apostolical


tradition ; because the observation of it was very full of
variety, and some kept it forty hours, some a day, some a
week, as I shall afterward in its proper place make to appear.
But by this rule the distinction of bishops and presbyters is
an apostolical tradition (besides the Scriptures, by which it
appears to be Divine); by this the consecration of the blessed
eucharist by ecclesiastical persons, bishops and priests, is
certainly a tradition apostolical ; by this the Lord's day

Online LibraryJeremy TaylorThe whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 13) → online text (page 14 of 61)