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yernment. But these observations admit many exceptions. As to the Papists, in the worst sense of the word, those who are for supporting even the most exorbitant of the papal claims, the manifest tendency whereof is to establish an ecclesiastical despotism, the aim of their doctrine, in spite of the canons, has long been to lessen, as much as possible, our reve. rence of the Fathers. What was said by Friar Theatin an Italian, in a public disputation with some French divines, at Paris, in presence of the Pope's nuncio and many prelates, may be justly considered as spoken in the spirit, and expressive of the sentiments, of the whole party. When his antagonist Baron, a Dominican, urged the testimonies of several Fathers, in direct opposition to the doctrine maintained by the Italian, the latter did not recur to the chimerical distinctions of the Sorbonists, but making light of that long train of authorities, replied contemptuously, “ As to what concerns the authority “ of the Fathers, I have only to say with the church, “ Omnes sancti patres orate pro nobis ;” an answer which, at the same time that it greatly scandalized the Galican doctors, was highly approved by the Nuncio, well knowing that it would be very much relished at Rome. So similar on this head are the sentiments of the most opposite sects. Nor is this the only instance wherein the extremes approach nearer to each other, than the middle does to either. I may add that an unbounded respect for the Fathers was, till the commencement of the sixteenth century, the prevalent sentiment in Christendom. Since
that time, their authority has declined apace, and is, at present, in many places, totally annihilated.
I own that, in my opinion, they of former generations were in one extreme, and we of the present are in another. The Fathers are not entitled to our adoration, neither do they merit our contempt. If some of them were weak and credulous, others of them were both learned and judicious. In what depends purely on reason and argument, we ought to treat them with the same impartiality we do the moderns, carefully weighing what is said, not who says it. In what depends on testimony, they are, in every case wherein no particular passion can be suspected to have swayed them, to be preferred before modern interpreters or annotators. I say not this to insinuate that we can rely more on their integrity, but to signify that many points were with them a subject of testimony, which, with modern critics, are matter merely of conjecture, or at most, of abstruse and critical discussion. It is only from ancient authors, that those ancient usages, in other things, as well as in language, can be discovered by us, which to them stood on the footing of matters of fact, whereof they could not be ignorant. Language, as has been often observed, is founded in use; and ancient use, like all other ancient facts, can be conveyed to us only by written testimony. Besides, the facts regarding the import of words (when controversy is out of the question) do not, like other facts, give scope to the passions to operate ; and if misrepresented, they expose either the ignorance, or the bad faith, of the author,
to his contemporaries. I do not say, therefore, that we ought to confide in the verdict of the Fathers as judges, but that we ought to give them an impartial hearing as, in many cases, the only competent wit
And every body must be sensible that the direct testimony of a plain man, in a matter which comes within the sphere of his knowledge, is more to be regarded, than the subtle conjectures of an able scholar who does not speak from knowledge, but gives the conclusions he has drawn from his own precarious reasonings, or from those of others.
8 10. And, even as to what is advanced not on knowledge, but on opinion, I do not think that the moderns are, in general, entitled to the preference. On controverted articles of faith, both ought to be consulted with caution, as persons who may reasonably be thought prejudiced, in favour of the tenets of their party. If, in this respect, there be a difference, it is entirely in favour of the ancients. An inerease of years has brought to the church an increase of controversies. Disputes have multiplied, and been dogmatically decided. The consequence whereof is, that religion was not near so much moulded into the systematic form, for many centuries, as it is in these latter ages. Every point was not, in ancient times, so minutely discussed, and every thing, even to the phraseology, settled, in the several sects, with so much hypercritical, and metaphysical, not to say sophistical subtlety, as at present. They were, therefore, if not entirely free, much less entangled
with decisions merely human, than more recent commentators; too many of whom seem to have had it for their principal object, to bring the language of Scripture to as close a conformity, as possible, to their own standard, and make it speak the dialect of their sect. So much for the preference I give to the ancient, particularly to the Greek, expounders of Scripture, when they confine themselves to the grammatical sense ; and so much for the regard to which I think the early Christian writers justly entitled.
ý 11. To the aid we may have from them, I add that of the ancient versions, and, last of all, that of modern scholiasts, annotators, and translators. In the choice of these we ought to be more influenced, by the acknowledged learning, discernment, and candour of the person, than by the religious denomination to which he belonged, or the side which, on contested articles, he most favoured. So far from limiting ourselves to those of one sect, or of one set of tenets, it is only by the free use of the criticisms and arguments of opposite sides, as urged by themselves, that undue prepossessions are best cured, or even prevented. We have heard of poisons which serve as antidotes against other poisons of opposite quality. It will be no inconvenient consequence of the use of interpre. ters addicted to adverse parties, if their excesses serve mutually to correct one another.
12. But I am aware that some will be astonished that, among the assistances enumerated for interVOL. I.
preting the Scriptures, I have made no mention of two helps much celebrated by writers of almost all denominations. These are the analogy of the faith, and the etymology of the words. It will no doubt be proper now to inquire impartially, what aid, in the interpretation of dark and doubtful passages, may reasonably be sought for, and expected, from these,
0 13. First, of the analogy of the faith: As far as I can collect, from the import of the terms, what is meant by proposing this as a rule of interpretation, in every dubious case ; it should be, that when a passage appears ambiguous, or is susceptible of different interpretations, that interpretation is always to be adopted which is most conformable to the whole scheme of religion, in respect both of doctrines and of precepts, delivered in the sacred oracles. Now there can be no question that, if the inquirer be previously in the certian knowledge of that whole scheme, this rule is excellent, and, in a great measure, supersedes the necessity of any other. But, let me ask him, or rather, let him ask himself, ere he proceed, this simple question, What is the reason, the principal reason, at least, for which the study of Scripture is so indispensable a duty ? It is precisely, all consistent Protestants will answer, that thence we may discover what the whole scheme of religion is. Are we then to begin our examination with taking it for granted that, without any inquiry, we are perfectly acquainted with this scheme alrea