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pattern as well as the recommendation of this method of teaching in Scripture itself?.
This self-restraint and abstinence, practised, at least partially, by the Primitive Church in the publication of the most sacred doctrines of our religion, is termed, in theological language, the Disciplina Arcani ; concerning which a few remarks may here be added, not so much in recommendation of it (which is beside my purpose), as to prevent misconception of its principle and limits.
Now, first, it may be asked, How was any secrecy practicable, seeing that the Scriptures were open to every one who chose to consult them? It may startle those who are but acquainted with the popular writings of this day, yet, I believe, the most accurate consideration of the subject will lead us to acquiesce in the statement, as a general truth, that the doctrines in question have never been learned merely from Scripture. Surely the Sacred Volume was never intended, and is not adapted, to teach us our creed; however certain it is that we can prove our creed from it, when it has once been taught us“, and in spite of individual producible exceptions to the general rule. From the very first, that rule has been, as a matter of fact, that the Church should teach the truth, and then should appeal to Scripture in vindication of its own teaching. And from the first, it has been the error of heretics to neglect the information thus provided for them, and to attempt of themselves a work to which they are unequal, the eliciting a systematic doctrine from the scattered notices of the truth which Scripture contains. Such men act, in the solemn concerns of religion, the part of the self-sufficient natural philosopher, who should obstinately reject Newton's theory of gravitation, and endeavour, with talents inadequate to the task, to strike out some theory of motion by himself. The insufficiency of the mere private study of Holy Scripture for arriving at the exact and entire truth which Scripture really contains, is shown by the fact, that creeds and teachers have ever been divinely provided, and by the discordance of opinions which exists wherever those aids are thrown aside; as it is also shown by the very structure of the Bible itself. And if this be so, it follows that, while inquirers and neophytes in the first centuries lawfully used the inspired writings for the purposes of morals and for instruction in the rudiments of the faith, they still might need the teaching of the Church as a key to the collection of passages which related to the mysteries of the Gospel, passages which are obscure from the necessity of combining and receiving them all.
3 “ Bonæ sunt in Scripturis sacris mysteriorum profunditates, quæ ob hoc teguntur, ne vilescant; ob hoc quæruntur, ut exerceant; ob hoc autem aperiuntur, ut pascant.” August. in Petav. præf. in Trin. i. 5.
4 Vide Dr. Hawkins's original and most conclusive work on Unauthoritative Tradition, which contains in it the key to a number of difficulties which are apt to perplex the theological student.
A more plausible objection to the existence of this rule of secrecy in the Early Church arises from the. circumstance, that the Christian Apologists openly mention to the whole world the sacred tenets which have been above represented as the peculiar possession of the
confirmed believer. But it must be observed, that the writers of these were frequently laymen, and so did not commit the Church as a body, nor even in its separate authorities, to formal statement or to theological discussion. The great duty of the Christian teacher was to unfold the sacred truths in due order, and not prematurely to insist on the difficulties, or to apply the promises of the Gospel ; and if others erred in this respect, still it remained a duty to him. And further, these disclosures are not so conclusive as they seem to be at first sight; the approximations of philosophy, and the corruptions of heresy, being so considerable, as to create a confusion concerning the precise character of the ecclesiastical doctrine. Besides, in matter of fact, some of the early apologists themselves, as Tatian, were tainted with heretical opinions.
But in truth, it is not the actual practice of the Primitive Church, which I am concerned with, so much as its principle. Men often break through the rules, which they set themselves for the conduct of life, with or without good reason. If it was the professed principle of the early teachers, to speak exoterically to those who were without the Church, instances of a contrary practice but prove their inconsistency; whereas the fact of the existence of the principle answers the purpose which is the ultimate aim of these remarks, viz. it accounts for those instances in the teaching of the Alexandrians, whether many or few, and whether extant or not in writing, in which they were silent as regards the mysterious doctrines of Christianity. Indeed it is evident, thạt any how the Disciplina Arcani could not be observed for any long time in the Church. Apostates would reveal its doctrines, even if these escaped in no other way. Perhaps it was almost abandoned, as far as men of letters were concerned, after the date of Ammonius ; indeed there are various reasons for limiting its strict enforcement to the end of the second century. And it is plain, that during the time when the sacred doctrines were passing into the stock of public knowledge, Christian controversialists would be in a difficulty how to conduct themselves, what to deny, explain or complete, in the popular notions of their creed; and they would consequently be betrayed into inconsistencies of statement, and vary in their method of disputing.
The Disciplina Arcani being supposed, with these limitations, to have had a real existence, I observe further, in explanation of its principle, that the elementary information given to the heathen or catechumen was in no sense undone by the subsequent secret teaching, which was in fact but the filling up of a bare but correct outline. The contrary theory was maintained by the Manichees, who represented the initiatory discipline as founded on a fiction or hypothesis, which was to be forgotten by the learner as he made progress in the real doctrine of the gospel"; somewhat after the manner of a school in the present day, which supposes conversion to be effected by an exhibition of free promises and threats, and an appeal to our moral capabilities, which after conversion are discovered to have no foundation in fact. But “Far be it from so great an Apostle,” says Augustine, speaking of St. Paul, “ a vessel elect of God,
5 August. in Advers. Leg. et Proph. lib. ii.
an organ of the Holy Ghost, to be one man when he preached, another when he wrote, one man in private, another in public. He was made all to all men, not by the craft of a deceiver, but from the affection of a sympathizer, succouring the diverse diseases of souls with the diverse emotions of compassion ; to the little ones dispensing the lesser doctrines, not false ones, but the higher mysteries to the perfect, all of them, however, true, harmonious, and divine.”
Next, the truths reserved for the baptized Christian were not put forward as the arbitrary determinations of individuals, as the word of man, but rather as an apostolical legacy, preserved and dispensed by the Church. Thus Irenæus when engaged in refuting the heretics of his age, who appealed from the text of Scripture to a sense independent of it, as the test between truth and falsehood in its contents, says, “We know the doctrine of our salvation through none but those who have transmitted to us the gospel, first proclaiming it, then (by God's will) delivering it to us in the Scriptures, as a basis and pillar of our faith. Nor dare we affirm that their announcements were made previously to their attaining perfect knowledge, as some presume to say, boasting that they set right the Apostles ?.” He then proceeds to speak of the clearness and cogency of the traditions preserved in the Church, as containing that true wisdom of the perfect, of which St. Paul speaks, and to which
6 Mosheim, de Caus. Supp. Libror. $ 17. I do not find it in this exact form in Augustine's treatise; vide in Advers. Leg. et Proph. lib. ii. 4. 6. &c.
Iren. iii. 1. Vide also Tertull. de Præscr. Hæret. 22.