Jeremy Taylor.

The whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 13) online

. (page 22 of 61)
Online LibraryJeremy TaylorThe whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 13) → online text (page 22 of 61)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

as implied, whether it be a command or no cannot be known
from these words, nor from the appendant condition ; be-
cause that which is not under command, may be excellently
good, and therefore fit to be encouraged and invited forward.
But whether it was a precept or a counsel, that young man,
though alone spoken to, was not alone intended, because the
thing to which he was invited, is an excellence and spiritual
worthiness in all men, for ever, that can and will receive it.


Evangelical Laws, given to one concerning the Duty of another,
do, in that very Relation, concern them both ; but in dif-
fering Degrees.

] . THIS rule I learn from St. Paul ; a and it is of good use
in cases of conscience relating to some evangelical laws :
" Obey them that have the rule over you, and be subject ;
for they watch for your souls, as they which must give an ac-
count : that they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for
that is unprofitable for you." Thus a prelate or curate of souls
is to take care, that his cure be chaste and charitable, just
and temperate, religious and orderly. He is bound that they
be so, and they are more bound ; but each of them for their
proportion : and the people are not only bound to God to be
so, but they are bound to their bishop and priest that they
be so ; and not only God will exact it of them, but their
prelate must, and they must give accounts of it to their
superior, because he must to his supreme : and if the people
will not, they are not only unchaste or intemperate before
God and their bishop, but they are disobedient also. It is
necessary that infants be baptized : this I shall suppose here
because I have in other places b sufficiently (as I suppose)
proved it. Upon this supposition, if the inquiry be upon
whom the necessity is incumbent, it will be hard to say,

Heb.xiii. 17.

b Great Exemp. Disc, of Baptism of Infants : Liberty of Prophesying, sect. 18.


' upon infants,' because they are not capable of a law, nor of
obedience ; and yet it is said to be necessary for them. If
upon their parents, then certainly it is not necessary to the
infants ; because if what is necessary be wanting, they
for whom it is necessary, shall suffer : and therefore it
will be impossible, that the precept should belong to others,
and the punishment or evil in not obeying belong to the
children ; that is, that the salvation of infants should depend
upon the good will or the diligence of any man whatsoever.
Therefore if others be bound, it is necessary that they bring
them, but it will not be necessary that they be brought: that
is, they who do not bring them, but not they who are not
brought, shall suffer punishment. But therefore to answer
this case, this rule is useful : It is necessary that the parents
or the Church should bring them to baptism, and it is neces-
sary that they be baptized ; and therefore both are bound,
and the thing must not be omitted. The parents are bound
at first, and the children, as soon as they can be bound ; so
that the precept leans upon two shoulders : if the first omit
their share in their time, there is no evil consequent but what
is upon themselves: but when the children can choose, and
can come, they must supply their parents' omission, and pro-
vide for their own proper necessity. It is in this as in provi-
sions ; at first they must be fed by the hand and care of others,
and afterward by their own labour and provisions : but, all the
way, they are under a necessity and a natural law of being
provided for. When St. Paul wrote to Timothy concerning
the dispositions required in those persons who were to be
bishops, it will not be very easy to say of whom the defect
of some of those conditions shall be required. A bishop
must be the husband of one wife, that is, he must not marry
while his first wife lives, though she be civilly dead, that is,
whether divorced, or banished, or otherwise in separation.
But what if he be married to two wives at once ? Many Christ-
ians were so at first : many, I say, who were converted from
Judaism or Gentilism, and yet were not compelled to put
away either. If a bishop be chosen that is a polygamist,
who sins? that is, who is obliged by this precept? Is the
bishop that ordains him, or the prince or people that chooses
him, or the ecclesiastic himself that is so chosen? The
answer to this inquiry is by considering the nature of such a


law, which the Italians call ' il mandate volante, a flying
or ambulatory commandment,' in which the duty is divided,
and several persons have several parts of the precept incum-
bent on them. He that chooses and he that ordains him
are bound for their share, to take care that he be canonically
capable ; but he that is so chosen, is not bound to any thing
but what is in his power ; that is, he is not obliged to put
her away whom he hath legally married, and her whom,
without sin, he can lawfully retain : but because that which is
without sin, is not always without reproach and obloquy,
and that which may be innocent, may sometimes not be laud-
able, and of a clergyman more may be required than of
another that is not so ; they who call him to the office, are
to take care of that, and he which is called is not charged
with that. But then though he be not burdened with that
which is innocent and at present out of his power, and
such a person may be innocently chosen, when they who
choose him are not innocent ; yet when any thing of the
will is ingredient on his part, he must take care of that him-
self. He may be chosen, but he must not ' ambire,' not ' sue'
for it, nor thrust himself upon it ; for here begins his obli-
gation : there can be no duty, but what is voluntary and can
be chosen ; but when a man can choose, he can be obliged.
I do not here dispute how far, and in what cases, this law
does oblige ; for of that I am to give an account in the chap-
ter of the ecclesiastical laws : but the present inquiry is, Who
are the persons concerned in the obligation? It was also
taken care that a bishop should not be a ' novice :' and yet
St. Timothy was chosen a bishop at the age of five and
twenty years ; and he was innocent, because it was the act
of others, who came off from their obligation upon another
account. But if he had desired it, or, by power or faction,
thrust himself upon the Church with that canonical insuffi-
ciency, he had prevaricated the canon apostolical : for to so
much of it he was bound ; but in what he was a passive, he
was not concerned, but others were.

2. But this is to be limited in two particulars. 1. In
what the clerk is passive, he is not obliged ; that is, in such
matters and circumstances as are extrinsical to his office, and
matter of ornament and decency. Thus if he have been
married to an infamous woman which he cannot now help ;


if he be young, which he cannot at all help, but it will help
itself in time; if he have an evil and an unpleasant coun-
tenance, if he be deformed ; for in these things, and things of
like nature, the choosers and ordainers are concerned ; but
the clerk may suffer himself to be chosen, the law notwith-
standing. But if the canonical impediment be such as hin-
ders him from doing of his future duty, there he may not
suffer himself to be chosen ; and if he be, he must refuse it.
The reason of the difference is plain ; because the electors
and ordainers are concerned but till the election is past ;
but the elected is concerned for ever after : therefore although
there may be many worthinesses in the person to be chosen
to outweigh the external insufficiency and incapacity, and if
there be not, the electors are concerned, because it is their
office and their act, and they can hinder it, and therefore they
only are charged there ; yet for ever after the elector is bur-
dened, and if he cannot do his duty, he is a sinner all the
way ; he is a wolf to the revenue, and a butcher to the flock.

3. (2.) Though, in matters of decency and ornament, the
person to be chosen is not so obliged but that he may suffer
himself to be chosen if he be otherwise capable, because those
things which are not in his power are not in his duty, yet
even for these things he also is obliged afterward ; and he
is bound not to do that afterward which if it was done before
others were obliged not to choose him. If a person was
divorced before and married again, he may accept of a
bishoprick ; but if he do so afterward, he is guilty of the
breach of the commandment ; for he must not go back to
that door where he might not enter, but then he is wholly
obliged ; he alone, because then it is his own act, and he
alone can hinder it. I say, he must not go back.

4. But if he be thrust back to that door, where if he had
stood at first, he ought not to have been let in, he is no more
obliged at last that at first : he that ' does not govern his
house well, and hath not his children in subjection,' may not,
by the apostle's rule, be chosen ; but when he is a bishop,
and falls into the calamity of having evil and rebellious child-
ren, this is no impediment to his ofiice directly, and does
not so much as indirectly pass upon him any irregularity.

5. But, then, as to the rule itself, this instance is fit to
explicate it. For parents are tied to rule their children,


masters to govern their servants ; but children are also
obliged to be governable, and servants must be obedient.
For in relative duties every man must bear his own burden,
and observe his own share of the commandment.


Custom is no sufficient Interpreter of the Laws of Jesus Christ.

1. TRUTH and the Divine commandments need no prescrip-
tion, but have an intrinsic warrant, and a perpetual abode ;
but that which is warranted by custom, hath but an acci-
dental obligation, and is of human authority. The laws of
Christ are, or ought to be, the parents of custom ; but cus-
tom cannot introduce a Divine law or obligation ; our cus-
toms ought to be according to Christ's commandment ; but
from our customs we cannot conclude or infer that this is the
will or command of Christ. This rule is Tertullian's : a " Veri-
tati nemo praescribere potest, non spatium teinporura, non
patrocinia personarum, non privilegium regionum. Ex his
enim fere consuetudo initium ab aliqua ignorantia vel simpli-
citate sortita, in usurn per successionem corroborata ; et ita
adversus veritatem vindicatur. Sed Dominus noster Christus
' veritatem ' se, non * consuetudinem,' cognominavit. Quod-
cunque adversus veritatem sapit, hoc erit hseresis, etiam vetus
consuetudo ; No man can prescribe to truth, that is, to any
proposition or commandment evangelical. For customs
most commonly begin from ignorance or weakness, and in
time get strength by use, till it prevail against right. But
our Lord Christ does not call himself ' custom,' but 'truth.'
Whatsoever is against truth, though it be an old custom, is
heresy, notwithstanding its long continuance."

2. The purpose of this rule is not to bar custom from
being of use in the exposition of the sense of a law or doc-
trine. For when it is certain that Christ gave the law, and it
is uncertain what sense was intended to the law, custom is
very useful in the interpretation ; that is, the customs of the
first and best ages of the Church : and then the longer the

De Virgin. Veland.


custom did ascend, still we have the more confidence, because
we have all the wise and good men of so many ages concur-
ring in the interpretation and understanding of the law.
Thus the apostle gave the Church a canon, "that we should
in all things give thanks :" the custom of the ancient Church
did in pursuance of this rule say a short prayer, and give
thanks at the lighting up of candles. The history of it I have
from St. Basil : b " Visum est patribus nostris beneficium
vespertini luminis non silentio suscipere, sed statim, ut
apparuit, gratias agere ; They said grace for their light as
well as for their meat." This custom was good ; for it was
but the particular instance of a general duty.

3. But then custom is to be allowed but as one topic,
not as all ; it is the best argument when we have no better ;
but it is the most inartificial of all arguments ; and a com-
petent reason to the contrary is much to be preferred before
a great and long prescribing custom. Both these propositions
are severally affirmed by the fathers of the Church. The first
by St. Austin in his epistle to Casulanus : " In his rebus, de
quibus nihil certi statuit Divina Scriptura, nobis populi Dei
et olim justi, statuta majorum pro lege tenenda sunt ; et sicut
preevaricatores legum Divinarum, ita contemptores consuetu-
dinum ecclesiasticarum coercendi sunt." The holy catholic
Church is certainly guided by the Spirit of God, and there-
fore where the question is concerning any thing that is not
clear in Scripture, the customs of the catholic Church are
not to be despised ; for it is to be presumed (where the con-
trary is not proved), that she piously endeavours, and there-
fore is graciously assisted in the understanding of the will
and commandments of her Lord ; and, in this sense, custom
is the best interpreter, because there is no better and no
clearer light shining from any angel.

4. Custom can thus, in cases of destitution of other
topics, declare the meaning of a law ; but custom of itself
cannot be the interpreter of the will of Christ, or a sufficient
warrant of a law, or immediately bind the conscience, as if
it were a signification of the Divine pleasure ; much less ought
it to be opposed to any words of Scripture or right reason
and proper argument derived from thence. And that is the
other thing which, I also said, is taught us by the fathers of

b Cap. xxix. de Spir. S.


the Church. So St. Cyprian : c " Frustra quidam, quiratione
vincuntur, consuetudinem nobis opponunt, quasi consuetude
major sit veritate, aut non fuerit in spiritualibus sequen-
dum, si melius fuerit a S. Spiritu revelatura ; In vain is
custom opposed to reason, as if it were greater than truth :
not custom, but that which is best, is to be followed by
spiritual persons, if any thing better than custom be revealed
by the Spirit of God."

5. All good customs are good warranties and encourage-
ments ; but whether they be good or no is to be examined
and proved by the rule and by the commandment : and there-
fore the custom itself is but an ill indication of the command-
ment, from whence itself is marked for good, or else is to be
rejected as reprobate and good for nothing. " Consuetudo
auctoritati cedat ; pravuni usum lex et ratio vincat ; cum vero
nee sacris canonibus nee humanis legibus consuetude obvi-
are monstratur, inconcussa servanda est," said Isidore ; d
" Let custom yield to authority, to law, and to reason ; but
when it agrees with the laws of God and of man, let it be
kept inviolate."

6. When custom is consonant to some other instrument
of probation, when it is apparently pious, and reasonable,
and of the analogy of faith, it is an excellent corroborative
and defensative of truth, and warrant to the conscience ; but
when it stands alone, or hath an ill aspect upon other more
reasonable and effective ways of persuasion, it is very sus-
picious and very dangerous, and is commonly a very ill sign
of an ill cause, or of corrupted manners. Cedrenus 6 tells
that " the patriarch Abraham was wont to say, that there is
great difference between truth and custom ; that being very
hard to be found; this, whether good or bad, being obvious
to every eye : and, which is worse, by following custom a
man gets no comfort if it be in the right, and no great shame
if it be in the wrong, because he relies not upon his own rea-
son, but the judgment of old men that lived long ago, who
whether they judged wisely or foolishly must appear by some
other way ; but this he will find, that it will be very hard to
leave it, though it be never so foolish and ridiculous."

7. Of what obligation in matters of practice, and of what

c Ad Jubaian. a In Synonymis, lib. ii.

e Hist. Compend. fere in initio, p. 25.


persuasion in the inquiries of truth, ecclesiastical customs
are to be esteemed, I shall afterward discourse when I treat
of ecclesiastical laws : but that which I would persuade for
the present is, that the customs and usages of the world are
but an ill commentary on the commandments of our blessed

8. (1.) Because evil is crept into most of the manners of
men ; and then a custom is most likely to transmit her autho-
rity to that which ought to be destroyed. " Inter causas
malorum nostrorum, quod vivimus ad exempla, nee ratione
componimur, sed consuetudine abducimur. Quod si pauci
facerent, nolumus imitari : quum plures facere coeperunt,
quasi honestius sit quia frequentius, sequimur, et recti apud
nos locum tenet error, ubi publicus factus est ;" so Seneca
complained : " It is one great cause of our mischiefs, that
we are not led by truth, but led away by custom ; as if a
thing were the honester because it is frequent ; and error
becomes truth when it is common and public." Excellent
therefore was that saying of Pope Nicolas I.: " Parvus
numerus non obest, ubi pietas abundat : magnus non pro-
dest, ubi impietas regnat ; If right and religion be on our
side, the smallness of our company is nothing : but a multi-
tude cannot justify impiety."

9. (2.) Custom in moral practices becomes a law to men
by pressing upon their modesty, and by outfacing truth and
piety ; so that unless the custom have warranty from the law,
it hath the same effect against a law as for it ; and therefore
in such cases is at no hand to be trusted, but at every hand
to be suspected, lest it make it necessary that men become
vicious. The customs of the German and neighbour nations
so expound the laws of Christ concerning temperance, that
if by their measures it be defined, it looks so like intemper-
ance, as milk to milk ; and the common customs of the world
expound all the laws of the blessed Jesus so as to be truly
obligatory at no time but in the danger, or in the article of
death : but certainly it is but an ill gloss, that evacuates all
the holy purposes of the commandment ; and at the day of
judgment, when we shall see numberless numbers of the
damned hurried to their sad sufferings, it will be but an ill
apology to say, ' I did as all the world almost besides me,
by whose customs I understood the laws of the Gospel to a


sense of ease and gentleness, and not by the severity of a
few morose preachers.' Poggius tells of a Neapolitan shep-
herd, that against Easter going to confession, he told his
confessor, with a tender conscience and great sorrow of heart,
that he had broken the holy fast of Lent, by chance indeed,
but yet with some little pleasure ; for when he was pressing
of a new cheese, some of the whey started from the ves-
sel and leaped into his mouth, and so went into his stomach.
The priest smiling a little at the fantastic conscience of the
man, asked him if he was guilty of nothing else. The shep-
herd saying, he knew of nothing else that did or ought to
trouble him ; his confessor, knowing the customs of those
people upon the mountains of Naples, asked him if he had
never robbed or killed any strangers passengers. ' O yes,'
replied the shepherd, ' I have often been at that employment ;
but that we do every day, and always did so, and I hope that
is no sin :' but the cheese, the forbidden cheese, stuck in his
stomach, because every one did abominate such meat upon
fasting-days : only the custom of killing and stealing had
hardened his heart and forehead till it was not perceived.

Dedit Lane contagio labem,

Et dabit in plures ; sicut grex totus in agris
Unius scabie cadit et porrigine porci,
Uvaque conspecta livorem ducit ab uva. f

10. Evil manners begin from one evil man, or from one
weak or vicious principle, and pass on to custom, and then
to be virtuous is singularity, and is full of envy ; and con-
cerning the customs of the world it is ten to one if there be
not some foulness in them. The advice therefore of St. Cy-
prian s is a good compendium of this inquiry : " Consuetudo,
quae apud quosdam irrepserat, impedire non debet, quo mi-
nus veritas praevaleat et vincat ; nam consuetudo sine veri-
tate vetustas erroris est : propter quod, relicto errore, sequa-
mur veritatem ; scientes, quod veritas vincit, veritas valet et
invalescit in aeternum, et vivit et obtinet in secula seculorum ;
Custom ought not to prevail against any truth; but truth,
which is eternal, will live and prevail for ever and ever.
Custom without truth is but a prescription of falsehood and

1 J uven. Sat. ii. 78. Ruperti. * Ad Pompei.



11. Upon occasion of this argument it is seasonable, and
of itself a very useful inquiry, Whether the customs of Jews
and Gentiles, or indefinitely of many nations, be a just pre-
sumption that the thing so practised is agreeable to the law
of nature, or is any ways to be supposed to be consonant to
the will of God?


12. To this, some of eminence in the Church of Rome
answer affirmatively ; and are so far from blushing, that
many of their rites are derived from the customs of heathens,
that they own it as a thing reasonable, and prudent, and
pious, according to the doctrine and practice of Gregory sur-
named Thaumaturgus, who, as St. Gregory* 1 Nyssen reports,
that he might allure the common people to the love of Christ-
ianity, gave way that those dances and solemn sports, which
they celebrate to the honour of their idols, should be still
retained, but diverted to the honour of the saints departed :
and Baronius' supposes it to be no other than as the Israel-
ites taking of the silver and brass from the Egyptians, and
employing it in the service of the tabernacle. And in par-
ticular, the custom of burning candles to the honour of the
Virgin Mary he imputes to the same principle, and owns it
to be of heathenish extraction . The same also is in divers other
instances avowed by Polydore Virgil ; k by Fauchet 1 in his
books of the Antiquities of France ; by DuChoul, Blondus, n
and Bellarmine, who bring this as an argument for the doc-
trine of purgatory, because the Jews, the Turks, and the hea-
thens, did believe something of it ; it being very likely, that
what almost all nations consent in, derives from the natural
light of reason which is common to all men : and upon this
very thing Cardinal Perron P boasts in the behalf of the ser-
vice in an unknown tongue, that not only the Greeks, and

h Oral, de Vita S. Grego. Thaum.

1 Annal. A.D. 44, sect. 88 ; et A.D. 58, sect. 76, 77; et in Martyrol. Febr.

k De Inventor. Rerum, lib. r. c. 2.

1 Lib. ii. c. 9 ; et lib. v. de Origin. Dignit. Gall. c. 17.

m Lib. de Religione Romanorum, in fine.

In lib. i. et ii. de Roma Triumphante.

Lib. i. de Purgatorio, c. 7, sect. Tertia Ratio.

P Adv. Regem Jacobum in Prima Instantia, c. i.


many other Christian churches, but even all religions, the
Persians and the Turks, use it.

This pretence therefore is fit to be considered.

13. (1.) Therefore I answer, that it is true that the Pri-
mitive Church did sometimes retain some ceremonies which
the heathens used ; but they were such ceremonies which
had no relation to doctrine, but might be made apt for order
and decent ministries external. Such were the garments of
the priests, lights, girdles, fasts, vigils, processions, postures,
festivals, and the like : and they did it for good reason and
with good effect ; that the people, who were most of all
amused with exterior usages, finding many of their own
customs adopted into Christianity, might with less prejudice
attend to the doctrines of that persuasion, which so readily
complied in their common ceremonies. This did well enough
at first, and was a prudent imitation of the practice of our
great Master, who, that the Jews might the easier pass
under his discipline and institution, made the passages as
short, and the difference as little, as could be. For since he
would retain but two external ministries in his whole insti-
tution, he took those rites to which the Jews had been
accustomed ; only he made their baptisms sacramental, and
effective of great purposes, and some of the Paschal rites he

Online LibraryJeremy TaylorThe whole works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor (Volume 13) → online text (page 22 of 61)