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Remarks on Catholick Communion --Rule of Vincent..
A Passage in Irenæus.--Unity of the Church.--Alleged Infallibility.
The object of this dissertation, is to show and to defend more particularly that in the lecture, the sense in which the Episcopal Church understands this Article of the Creed.
Long before the introduction of the term “Catholick” into the creed of the Eastern Church, and the later introduction of it into that of the West, it was used to distinguish between any particular Church-as that of Rome, or of Alexandria, or of Antioch; and the whole body of professing Christians throughout the world: agreeably to a property of the kingdom of the Messiah, that it was to be established in all nations, and not to be appropriated to a single people, like the economy of the Jews. It is precisely the sense, in which the Epistle of St. James, and the Epistles of St. Peter are called “Catholick;" to distinguish them, in that particular, from those of St. Paul: each of which was addressed to a Church in a single district.
When heresies arose, the tenets of each sect were novel to the Church settled over the face of Christendom; and it became natural to perceive a line of distinction between these, and the totality of the professing body, in different places. In this sense, the term is used, so early as by St. Ignatius in his Epistle to the Church of Smyrna; and by the same Church, in their narrative of the martyrdom of their
See Lecture II.
bishop Polycarp, preserved in the History of Euse. bius.
When the Church of England, at the Reformation, retained the term; she evidently understood it in one or both of the senses here stated. If her language be limited to the former sense; it means no more, than that there are divers Churches throughout the world; constituting one general Church, united in all the essential Articles of the Christian faith: and this she may affirm, consist. ently with her opinion, that some of the Churches have made indefensible additions to those essentials. If her language be taken as extending to the latter sense laid down, it will amount to this, that she impliedly disclaims communion with all those Churches, which obtrude doctrines striking at the fundamental principles of Christianity. When Ignatius wrote, there was a sect of whom he speaks with censure in many places of his Epistles, because of their denying that Jesus Christ was come in the flesh. He certainly considered these, as out of the pale of the Christian Church: and wherever any dogma, like that here in view, does away the essence, while it shelters itself under the name of Christianity, the use of the Article in this Church rejects the maintainers of it from the being considered as of the body of professing Christians.
It is in a very different sense from this, that the expression is used by the Roman Church; who calls herself-agreeably to the creed of Pope Pius the fifth-" The mother and mistress of all other Churches.” On what ground can she be called their mother? St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, was written about twenty-five years after the commencement of apostolick preaching. There are no documents to show, that before the writing of the epistle, any apostle had preached at Rome: and there can be no doubt, that Churches existed in sundry cities of Asia, before any Church could have been formed in the capitol of the empire; al
though at the time of writing the epistle, the said city contained Christians, “whose faith was spoken of throughout the world."* Had such a claim been set up by the Church of Jerusalem; she might have found a more specious plea for it, in the saying of St. Paul to the Corinthians -" What, went the gospel out from you, or came it to you?”+ But both this title, and the other of mistress of all other Churches, are assumptions absolutely unknown to antiquity.
As to the necessity lying on every Church, to be in communion with the Church of Rome; however high the fathers upheld the importance of Christian communion, they considered the obligation as resting on the Churches in common; without referring to any one Church, as being a standard for all the others. Doubtless, wherever there is a severance in this matter, between any two Churches,
possessing the essentials of such bodies; there must be a defect of charity, or else some errour or some practice, in one or each of them, not to be consent., ed to with a good conscience. It is here thought sufficient to demonstrate the novelty of the Roman claim, to read what the ancient writers say, on the subject of Church Communion: for they refute it, not by express denial, but by their being evidently uninformed, that any such claim existed. The position shall be illustrated by reference to a single writer-Vincent of Lerins, who wrote in the beginning of the fifth century, and ranks as a saint in the Roman Martyrology. Certainly this sensible author could not have known any thing of a test of orthodoxy, in an agreement with the Church of Rome in particular; since, in opposition to hereticks, he insists all along on another test-that of agreement with the Church in general, in what has been held always and every where. His silence as to the other speaks more decisively against it,
* Rom. i. 8.
* 1 Cor. xiv. 36,
than any thing he could have written: For this would at least have implied, that the contrary opinion was in circulation. It is here supposed, that nó well informed member of the Church of England, or of this Church, would object to Vincent's test of Catholicism; it being 'understood, that there are to be excluded all doctrines, which, however generally acknowledged at any periods since his time, can show no evidence of their having been acknowledged within the limits of the time to which he referred. To go no further than the doc. trine contradicted in this dissertation—that of the Church of Rome's being the mother and the mistress of all other Churches: it is a palpable breach of Vincent's rule of Catholicism; there being no documents to show, that such titles were assumed, or the prerogatives implied in them exercised, in or before the time of Vincent.
The author is aware, that in opposition to what has been now affirmed, a passage has been alleged from a translation in barbarous Latin, of a Greek work not extant; but composed by a pious and learned father of the Church-St. Irenæus, who wrote in the end of the second century. Although a native of the east, he resided in Lyons, in the western part of the Roman empire. There sprung up at Rome, and extended itself far and wide, the heresie of the Valentinians; who, among other blasphemies, denied that the world was created by a wise and good being. The father, in refuting their errours, opposed to them the authority of scripture. But further, as they made light of scripture, and confronted it by tradition; he called their attention from pretended tradition of their own, to that of the Church of Rome; founded by apostles, and more likely to be a faithful witness of the truth, than a modern sect which had started up within her bosom. The argument rests on obvious principles of moral evidence.
This is the connexion, and this is supposed to be
the sense of the passage in Irenæus: which, so far as the wretched translation will afford light, is as follows" To this Church, there is a necessity that every Church round about should resort, because of its more powerful principality, in which the apostolical tradition hath been always preserved."*
Whatever may be held concerning the possibility, that any body of men in succession may gradually swerve from the opinions and the practices of their predecessors; there can be no doubt, that in the age of Irenæus, the ancient faith was more likely to be found in a Church so conspicuous as that of Rome, than among an upstart sect. It cannot however but be perceived, that the present civil use of the word “ Principality” may lead to a wrong idea. The word “Chiefty,” if the use of it were permitted, would better convey the sense to an English, or an Anglo-American ear: and the Latin word rendered “ more powerful” will as well bear the translation—" more influential,” or “ of greater strength and authority.”
Some Roman Catholick authors have taken the liberty to change “round about,” into “every where:"'t and this, with the varying of the translation of another Latin word from “ resort” to
agree,”! has shifted the aspect of the whole passage. But other authors of the same communion, have not condescended to this expedient. The candid Dupin, in giving an abstract of the work of Irenæus, takes no notice of the passage in question: which shows, how far that historian was from con, sidering it to the purpose, for which it has been so often quoted. Fleury notices the passage; but not with impartiality: for he omits the restrictive word “round about;" which would have shown, that the father, in speaking of the sanction of the Church of Rome, challenged a weight to it not with all the
• Lib. iii. cap. 6. Undique, ubique. Convenire.