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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 6. Examination of the Doctrine of the Church of Rome on Tradition.

A. Difference between Tradition and the Analogy of Faith.

1. The Romish doctrine of tradition differs essentially from the Protestant doctrine of the analogy of faith. Protestants admit that there is a kind of tradition within the limits of the sacred Scriptures themselves. One generation of sacred writers received the whole body of truth taught by those who preceded them. There was a tradition of doctrine, a traditionary usus loquendi, traditionary figures, types, and symbols. The revelation of God in his Word begins in a fountain, and flows in a continuous stream ever increasing in volume. We are governed by this tradition of truth running through the whole sacred volume. All is consistent. One part cannot contradict another. Each part must be interpreted so as to bring it into harmony with the whole. This is only saying that Scripture must explain Scripture.

2. Again, Protestants admit that as there has been an uninterrupted tradition of truth from the protevangelium to the close; of the Apocalypse, so there has been a stream of traditionary teaching flowing through the Christian Church from the day of Pentecost to the present time. This tradition is so far a rule of faith that nothing contrary to it can be true. Christians do not stand isolated, each holding his own creed. They constitute one body, having one common creed. Rejecting that creed, or any of its parts, is the rejection of the fellowship of Christians, incompatible with the communion of saints, or membership in the body of Christ. In other words, Protestants admit that there is a common faith of the Church, which no man is at liberty to reject, and which no man can reject and be a Christian. They acknowledge the authority of this common faith for two reasons. First, because what all the competent readers of a plain book take to be its meaning, must be its meaning. Secondly, because the Holy Spirit is promised to guide the people of God into the knowledge of the truth, and therefore that which they, under the teachings of the Spirit, agree in believing must be true. There are certain fixed doctrines among Christians, as there are among Jews and Mohammedans, which are no longer open questions. The doctrines of the Trinity, of the divinity and incarnation of the eternal Son of God; of the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit; of the apostasy and sinfulness of the human race; the doctrines of the expiation of sin through the death of Christ and of salvation through his merits; of regeneration and sanctification by the Holy Ghost; of the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and of the life everlasting, have always entered into the faith of every recognized, historical church on the face of the earth, and cannot now be legitimately called into question by any pretending to be Christians.

Some of the more philosophical of the Romish theologians would have us believe that this is all they mean by tradition. They insist, they say, only on the authority of common consent. Thus Moehler, Professor of Theology at Munich, in his “Symbolik, oder Darstellung der Dogmatischen Gegensätze,” says, “Tradition, in the subjective sense of the word, is the common faith, or consciousness of the Church.”6868Page 356. “The ever-living word in the hearts of believers.”6969Page 357. It is, he says, what Eusebius means by by ἐκκλησιαστικὸν φρόνημα; what Vincent of Lerins intends by the ecclesiastica intelligentia, and the Council of Trent by the universus ecelesicæ sensus. “In the objective sense of the word,” Moehler says that “Tradition is the common faith of the Church as presented in external, historical witnesses through all centuries.” “In this latter sense,” he tells us, “tradition is commonly viewed when spoken of as a guide to the interpretation of the rule of Faith.”7070Page 358. He admits that in this sense “Tradition contains nothing beyond what is taught in Scripture; the two as to their content, are one and the same.”7171Page 373. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that in the Church of Rome many things were handed down from the Apostles which are not contained in the Scriptures. This fact he does not deny. He admits that such additional revelations, or such revelations in addition to those contained in the written word, are of the highest importance. But he soon dismisses the subject, and devotes his strength to the first-mentioned view of the nature and office of tradition, and holds that up as the peculiar doctrine of Romanism as opposed to the Protestant doctrine. Protestants, however, admit the fact and the authority of a common consciousness and a common faith, or common sense of the Church, while they reject the real and peculiar doctrine of Rome on this subject.

B. Points of Difference between the Romish Doctrine and that of Protestants on Common Consent.

The points of difference between the Protestant doctrine concerning the common faith of the Church and the Roman Catholic doctrine of tradition are: —

First. When Protestants speak of common consent of Christians, they understand by Christians the true people of God. Romanists on the other hand, mean the company of those who profess the true faith, and who are subject to the Pope of Rome. There is the greatest possible difference between the authority due to the common faith of truly regenerated, holy men, the temples of the Holy Ghost, and that due to what a society of nominal Christians profess to believe, the great majority of whom may be worldly, immoral, and irreligious.

Secondly. The common consent for which Protestants plead concerns only essential doctrines; that is, doctrines which enter into the very nature of Christianity as a religion, and which are necessary to its subjective existence in the heart, or which if they do not enter essentially into the religious experience of believers, are so connected with vital doctrines as not to admit of separation from them. Romanists, on the contrary, plead the authority of tradition for all kinds of doctrines and precepts, for rites and ceremonies, and ecclesiastical institutions, which have nothing to do with the life of the Church, and are entirely outside of the sphere of the promised guidance of the Spirit. Our Lord, in promising the Spirit to guide his people into the knowledge of truths necessary to their salvation, did not promise to preserve them from error in subordinate matters, or to give them supernatural knowledge of the organization of the Church, the number of the sacraments, or the power of bishops. The two theories, therefore, differ not only as to the class of persons who are guided by the Spirit, but also as to the class of subjects in relation to which that guidance is promised.

Thirdly. A still more important difference is, that the common faith of the Church for which Protestants contend, is faith in doctrines plainly revealed in Scripture. It does not extend beyond those doctrines. It owes its whole authority to the fact that it is a common understanding of the written word, attained and preserved under that teaching of the Spirit, which secures to believers a competent knowledge of the plan of salvation therein revealed. On the other hand, tradition is with the Romanists entirely independent of the Scriptures. They plead for a common consent in doctrines not contained in the Word of God, or which cannot be proved therefrom.

Fourthly. Protestants do not regard “common consent” either as an informant or as a ground of faith. With them the written word is the only source of knowledge of what God has revealed for our salvation, and his testimony therein is the only ground of our faith. Whereas, with Romanists, tradition is not only an informant of what is to be believed, but the witness on whose testimony faith is to be yielded. It is one thing to say that the fact that all the true people of God, under the guidance of the Spirit, believe that certain doctrines are taught in Scripture, is an unanswerable argument that they are really taught therein, and quite another thing to say that because an external society, composed of all sorts of men, to whom no promise of divine guidance has been given, agree in holding certain doctrines, therefore we are bound to receive those doctrines as part of the revelation of God.

C. Tradition and Development.

The Romish doctrine of tradition is not to be confounded with the modern doctrine of development. All Protestants admit that there has been, in one sense, an uninterrupted development of theology in the Church, from the apostolic age to the present time. All the facts, truths, doctrines, and principles, which enter into Christian theology, are in the Bible. They are there as fully and is clearly at one time as at another; at the beginning as they are now. No addition has been made to their number, and no new explanation has been afforded of their nature or relations. The same is true of the facts of nature. They are now what they have been from the beginning. They are, however, far better known, and more clearly understood now than they were a thousand years ago. The mechanism of the heavens was the same in the days of Pythagoras as it was in those of La Place; and yet the astronomy of the latter was immeasurably in advance of that of the former. The change was effected by a continual and gradual progress. The same progress has taken place in theological knowledge. Every believer is conscious of such progress in his own experience. When he was a child, he thought as a child. As he grew in years, he grew in knowledge of the Bible. He increased not only in the compass, but in the clearness, order, and harmony of his knowledge. This is just as true of the Church collectively as of the individual Christian. It is, in the first place, natural, if not inevitable, that it should be so. The Bible, although so clear and simple in its teaching, that he who runs may read and learn enough to secure his salvation, is still full of the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God; full of τὰ βάθη τοῦ θεοῦ, the profoundest truths concerning all the great problems which have taxed the intellect of man from the beginning. These truths are not systematically stated, but scattered, so to speak, promiscuously over the sacred pages, just as the facts of science are scattered over the face of nature, or hidden in its depths. Every man knows that there is unspeakably more in the Bible than he has yet learned, as every man of science knows that there is unspeakably more in nature than he has yet discovered, or understands. It stands to reason that such a book, being the subject of devout and laborious study, century after century, by able and faithful men, should come to be better and better understood. And as in matters of science, although one false theory after another, founded on wrong principles or on an imperfect induction of facts, has passed away, yet real progress is made, and the ground once gained is never lost, so we should naturally expect it to be with the study of the Bible. False views, false inferences, misapprehensions, ignoring of some facts, and misinterpretations, might be expected to come and go, in endless succession, but nevertheless a steady progress in the knowledge of what the Bible teaches be accomplished. And we might also expect that here, too, the ground once surely gained would not again be lost.

But, in the second place, what is thus natural and reasonable in itself is a patent historical fact. The Church has thus advanced in theological knowledge. The difference between the confused and discordant representations of the early fathers on all subjects connected with the doctrines of the Trinity and of the person of Christ, and the clearness, precision, and consistency of the views presented after ages of discussion, and the statement of these doctrines by the Councils of Chalcedon and Constantinople, is as great almost as between chaos and cosmos. And this ground has never been lost. The same is true with regard to the doctrines of sin and grace. Before the long-continued discussion of these subjects in the Augustinian period, the greatest confusion and contradiction prevailed in the teachings of the leaders of the Church; during those discussions the views of the Church became clear and settled. There is scarcely a principle or doctrine concerning the fall of man, the nature of sin and guilt, inability, the necessity of the Spirits influence, etc., etc., which now enters into the faith of evangelical Christians, which was not then clearly stated and authoritatively sanctioned by the Church. In like manner, before the Reformation, similar confusion existed with regard to the great doctrine of justification. No clear line of discrimination was drawn between it and sanctification. Indeed, during the Middle Ages, and among the most devout of the schoolmen, the idea of guilt was merged in the general idea of sin, and sin regarded as merely moral defilement. The great object was to secure holiness. Then pardon would come of course. The apostolic, Pauline, deeply Scriptural doctrine, that there can be no holiness until sin be expiated, that pardon, justification, and reconciliation, must precede sanctification, was never clearly apprehended. This was the grand lesson which the Church learned at the Reformation, and which it has never since forgot. It is true then, as an historical fact, that the Church has advanced. It understands the great doctrines of theology, anthropology, and soteriology, far better now, than they were understood in the early post-apostolic age of the Church.

Modern Theory of Development.

Very distinct from the view above presented is the modern theory of the organic development of the Church. This modern theory is avowedly founded on the pantheistic principles of Schelling and Hegel. With them the universe is the self-manifestation and evolution of the absolute Spirit. Dr. Schaff7272What is Church History? p. 75. says, that this theory “has left an impression on German science that can never be effaced; and has contributed more than any other influence to diffuse a clear conception of the interior organism of history.” In his work on the “Principles of Protestantism,”7373Page 150. Dr. Schaff says that Schelling and Hegel taught the world to recognize in history “the ever opening sense of eternal thoughts, an always advancing rational development of the idea of humanity, and its relations to God.” This theory of historical development was adopted, and partially Christianized by Schleiermacher, from whom it has passed over to Dr. Schaff, as set forth in his work above quoted, as well as to many other equally devout and excellent men. The basis of this modified theory is realism. Humanity is a generic life, an intelligent substance. That life became guilty and polluted in Adam. From him it passed over by a process of natural, organic development (the same numerical life and substance) to all his posterity, who therefore are guilty and polluted. This generic life the Son of God assumed into union with his divine nature, and thus healed it and raised it to a higher power or order. He becomes a new starting-point. The origin of this new form of life in Him is supernatural. The constitution of his person was a miracle. But from Him this life is communicated by a natural process of development to the Church. Its members are partakers of this new generic life. It is, however, a germ. What ever lives grows. “Whatever is done is dead.” This new life is Christianity. Christianity is not a form of doctrine objectively revealed in the Scriptures. Christian theology is not the knowledge, or systematic exhibition of what the Bible teaches. It is the interpretation of this inner life. The intellectual life of a child expressed itself in one way, of a boy in another way, and of a man in another and higher way. In each stage of his progress the man has views, feelings, and modes of thinking, appropriate to that stage. It would not do for a man to have the same views and thoughts as the child. Yet the latter are just as true, as right, and as proper, for the child, as those of the man for the man. It is thus with the Church. It passes through these stages of childhood, youth, and manhood, by a regular process. During the first centuries the Church had the indistinctness, vagueness, and exaggeration of views and doctrines, belonging to a period of infancy. In the Middle Ages it had a higher form. At the Reformation it advanced to the entrance on another stage. The form assumed by Christianity during the mediæval period, was for that period the true and proper, but not the permanent form. We have not reached that form as to doctrine yet. That will be reached in the Church of the future.

Development as held by some Romanists.

There is still another and very different form of the doctrine of development. It does not assume the Mystical doctrine of the indwelling of the substance of Christ, in the soul, the development of which works out its illumination in the knowledge of the truth, and finally its complete redemption. It admits that Christianity is, or includes a system of doctrine, and that those doctrines are in the Scriptures; but holds that many of them are there only in their rudiments. Under the constant guidance and tuition of the Spirit, the Church comes to understand all that these rudiments contain, and to expand them in their fulness. Thus the Lord’s Supper has been expanded into the doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass; anointing the sick, into the sacrament of extreme unction; rules of discipline into the sacrament of penance, of satisfactions, of indulgences, of purgatory, and masses and prayers for the dead; the prominence of Peter, into the supremacy of the Pope. The Old Testament contains the germ of all the doctrines unfolded in the New; and so the New Testament contains the germs of all the doctrines unfolded, under the guidance of the Spirit, in the theology of the mediæval Church.

Although attempts have been made by some Romanists and Anglicans to resolve the doctrine of tradition into one or other of these theories of development, they are essentially different. The only point of analogy between them is, that in both cases, little becomes much. Tradition has made contributions to the faith and institutions of the Christian Church; and development (in the two latter forms of the doctrine above mentioned) provides for a similar expansion.

The Real Question.

The real status quæstionis, on this subject, as between Romanists and Protestants, is not (1) Whether the Spirit of God leads true believers into the knowledge of the truth; nor (2) whether true Christians agree in all essential matters as to truth and duty; nor (3) whether any man can safely or innocently dissent from this common faith of the people of God; but (4) whether apart from the revelation contained in the Bible, there is another supplementary and explanatory revelation, which has been handed down outside of the Scriptures, by tradition. In other words, whether there are doctrines, institutions, and ordinances, having no warrant in the Scriptures, which we as Christians are bound to receive and obey on the authority of what is called common consent. This Romanists affirm and Protestants deny.

D. Arguments against the Doctrine of Tradition.

The heads of argument against the Romish doctrine on this subject are the following: —

I. It involves a natural impossibility. It is of course conceded that Christ and his Apostles said and did much that is not recorded in the Scriptures; and it is further admitted that if we had any certain knowledge of such unrecorded instructions, they would be of equal authority with what is written in the Scriptures. But Protestants maintain that they were not intended to constitute a part of the permanent rule of faith to the Church. They were designed for the men of that generation. The showers which fell a thousand years ago, watered the earth and rendered it fruitful for men then living. They cannot now be gathered up and made available for us. They did not constitute a reservoir for the supply of future generations. In like manner the unrecorded teachings of Christ and his Apostles did their work. They were not designed for our instruction. It is as impossible to learn what they were, as it is to gather up the leaves which adorned and enriched the earth when Christ walked in the garden of Gethsemane. This impossibility arises out of the limitations of our nature, as well as its corruption consequent on the fall. Man has not the clearness of perception, the retentiveness of memory, or the power of presentation, to enable him (without supernatural aid) to give a trustworthy account of a discourse once heard, a few years or even months after its delivery. And that this should be done over and over from month to month for thousands of years, is an impossibility. If to this be added the difficulty in the way of this oral transmission, arising from the blindness of men to the things of the Spirit, which prevents their understanding what they hear, and from the disposition to pervert and misrepresent the truth to suit their own prejudices and purposes, it must be acknowledged that tradition cannot be a reliable source of knowledge of religious truth. This is universally acknowledged and acted upon, except by Romanists. No one pretends to determine what Luther and Calvin, Latimer and Cranmer, taught, except from contemporaneous written records. Much less will any sane man pretend to know what Moses and the prophets taught except from their own writings.

Romanists admit the force of this objection. They admit that tradition would not be a trustworthy informant of what Christ and the Apostles taught, without the supernatural intervention of God. Tradition is to be trusted not because it comes down through the hands of fallible men, but because it comes through an infallibly guided Church. This, however, is giving up the question. It is merging the authority of tradition into the authority of the Church. There is no need of the former, if the latter be admitted. Romanists, however, keep these two things distinct. They say that if the Gospels had never been written, they would know by historical tradition the facts of Christ’s life; and that if his discourses and the epistles of the Apostles had never been gathered up and recorded, they would by the same means know the truths which they contain. They admit, however, that this could not be without a special divine intervention.

No Promise of Divine Intervention.

2. The second objection of Protestants to this theory is, that it is unphilosophical and irreligious to assume a supernatural intervention on the part of God, without promise and without proof, merely to suit a purpose, — Deus ex machina.

Our Lord promised to preserve his Church from fatal apostasy; He promised to send his Spirit to abide with his people, to teach them; He promised that He would be with them to the end of the world. But these promises were not made to any external, visible organization of professing Christians, whether Greek or Latin; nor did they imply that any such Church should be preserved from all error in faith or practice; much less do they imply that instructions not recorded by the dictation of the Spirit, should be preserved and transmitted from generation to generation. There is no such promise in the Word of God, and as such preservation and transmission without divine, supernatural interposition, would be impossible, tradition cannot be a trustworthy informant of what Christ taught.

No Criterion.

3. Romanists again admit that many false traditions have prevailed in different ages and in different parts of the Church. Those who receive them are confident of their genuineness, and zealous in their support. How shall the line be drawn between the true and false? By what criterion can the one be distinguished from the other? Protestants say there is no such criterion, and therefore, if the authority of tradition be admitted, the Church is exposed to a flood of superstition and error. This is their third argument against the Romish doctrine on this subject. Romanists, however say they have a sure criterion in antiquity and universality. They have formulated their rule of judgment in the famous dictum of Vincent of Lerins: “Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus.

Common Consent not a Criterion.

To this Protestants reply, — First, That they admit the authority of common consent among true Christians as to what is taught in the Scriptures. So far as all the true people of God agree in their interpretation of the Bible, we acknowledge ourselves bound to submit. But this consent is of authority only, (a) So far as it is the consent of true believers; (b) So far as it concerns the meaning of the written word; and, (c) So far as it relates to the practical, experimental, or essential doctrines of Christianity. Such consent as to matters outside of the Bible, or even supposed to be in the Bible, if they do not concern the foundation of our faith, is of no decisive weight. The whole Christian world, without one dissenting voice, believed for ages that the Bible taught that the sun moves round the earth. No man now believes it.

Secondly, Common consent as to Christian doctrine cannot be pleaded except within narrow limits. It is only on the gratuitous and monstrous assumption that Romanists are the only Christians, that the least plausibility can be given to the claim of common consent. The argument is really this: The Church of Rome receives certain doctrines on the authority of tradition. The Church of Rome includes all true Christians. Therefore, the common consent of all Christians may be claimed in favour of those doctrines.

But, thirdly, admitting that the Church of Rome is the whole Church, and admitting that Church to be unanimous in holding certain doctrines, that is no proof that that Church has always held them. The rule requires that a doctrine must be held not only ab omnibus, but semper. It is, however, a historical fact that all the peculiar doctrines of Romanism were not received in the early Church as matters of faith. Such doctrines as the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome; the perpetuity of the apostleship, the grace of orders; transubstantiation; the propitiatory sacrifice of the Mass; the power of the priests to forgive sins; the seven sacraments; purgatory: the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, etc., etc., can all be historically traced in their origin, gradual development, and final adoption. As it would be unjust to determine the theology of Calvin and Beza from the Socinianism of modern Geneva; or that of Luther from the theology of the Germans of our day; so it is utterly unreasonable to infer that because the Latin Church believes all that the Council of Trent pronounced to be true, that such was its faith in the first centuries of its history. It is not to be denied that for the first hundred years after the Reformation the Church of England was Calvinistic; then under Archbishop Laud and the Stuarts it became almost thoroughly Romanized; then it became to a large extent Rationalistic, so that Bishop Burnet said of the men of his day, that Christianity seemed to be regarded as a fable “among all persons of discernment.” To this succeeded a general revival of evangelical doctrine and piety, and that has been followed by a like revival of Romanism and Ritualism. Mr. Newman7474Lectures on Prophetic Office of the Church, Lond. 1837, pp. 394, 395. says of the present time: “In the Church of England, we shall hardly find ten or twenty neighboring clergymen who agree together; and that, not in non-essentials of religion, but as to what are its elementary and necessary doctrines; or as to the fact whether there are any necessary doctrines at all, any distinct and definite faith required for salvation.” Such is the testimomly of history. In no external, visible Church, has there been a consent to any form of faith, semper et ab omnibus.

The Latin Church is no exception to this remark. It is an undeniable fact of history that Arianism prevailed for years both in the East and West; that it received the sanction of the vast majority of the bishops, of provincial and ecumenical councils, and of the Bishop of Rome. It is no less certain that in the Latin Church, Augustinianism, including all the characteristic doctrines of what is now called Calvinism, was declared to be the true faith by council after council, provincial and general, and by bishops and popes. Soon, however, Augustinianism lost its ascendency. For seven or eight centuries no one form of doctrine concerning sin, grace, and predestination prevailed in the Latin Church. Augustinianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Mysticism (equally irreconcilable with both), were in constant conflict; and that, too, on questions on which the Church had already pronounced its judgment. It was not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that the Council of Trent, after long conflict within itself, gave its sanction to a modified form of Semi-Pelagianism.

The claim, therefore, for common consent, as understood by Romanists, is contrary to history. It is inconsistent with undeniable facts. This is virtually admitted by Romanists themselves. For with them it is common to say, We believe because the fifth century believed. But this is a virtual admission that their peculiar faith is not historically traceable beyond the fifth century. This admission of a want of all historical evidence of “common consent” is also involved, as before remarked, in their constant appeal to the authority of the Church. What the Church says is a matter of faith, we, the traditionists affirm, are bound to believe, has always been a matter of faith. The passage from “Petrus á Soto,” quoted above, puts the case very concisely: “Quæcunque credit, tenet et servat Romana ecclesia, et in Scripturis non habentur illa ab Apostolis esse tradita.” The argument amounts to this. The Church believes on the ground of common consent. The proof that a thing is a matter of common consent, and always has been, is that the Church now believes it.

Inadequacy of the Evidences of Consent.

The second objection to the argument of Romanists from common consent in support of their traditions, is, that the evidence which they adduce of such consent is altogether inadequate. They appeal to the ancient creeds. But there was no creed generally adopted before the fourth century. No creed adopted before the eighth century contains any of the doctrines peculiar to the Church of Rome. Protestants all receive the doctrinal statements contained in what is called the Apostles’ creed, and in those of Chalcedon and of Constantinople, adopted A.D. 681.

They appeal also to the decisions of councils. To this the same reply is made. There were no general councils before the fourth century. The first six ecumenical councils gave no doctrinal decisions from which Protestants dissent. They, therefore, present no evidence of consent in those doctrines which are now peculiar to the Church of Rome.

They appeal again to the writings of the fathers. But to this Protestants object, —

First. That the writings of the apostolic fathers are too few to be taken as trustworthy representatives of the state of opinion in the Church for the first three hundred years. Ten or twenty writers scattered over such a period cannot reasonably be assumed to speak the mind of the whole Church.

Secondly. The consent of these fathers, or of the half of them, cannot be adduced in favour of any doctrine in controversy between Protestants and Romanists.

Thirdly. Almost unanimous consent can be quoted in support of doctrines which Romanists and Protestants unite in rejecting. The Jewish doctrine of the millennium passed over in its grossest form to the early Christian Church. But that doctrine the Church of Rome is specially zealous in denouncing.

Fourthly. The consent of the fathers cannot be proved in support of doctrines which Protestants and Romanists agree in accepting. Not that these doctrines did not then enter into the faith of the Church, but simply that they were not presented.

Fifthly. Such is the diversity of opinion among the fathers themselves, such the vagueness of their doctrinal statements, and such the unsettled usus loquendi as to important words, that the authority of the fathers may be quoted on either side of any disputed doctrine. There is no view, for example, of the nature of the Lord’s supper, which has ever been held in the Church, for which the authority of some early father cannot be adduced. And often the same father presents one view at one time, and another at a different time.

Sixthly. The writings of the fathers have been notoriously corrupted. It was a matter of great complaint in the early Church that spurious works were circulated; and that genuine works were recklessly interpolated. Some of the most important works of the Greek fathers are extant only in a Latin translation. This is the case with the greater part of the works of Iranæus, translated by Rufinus, whom Jerome charges with the most shameless adulteration.

Another objection to the argument from consent is, that it is a Procrustean bed which may be extended or shortened at pleasure. In every Catena Patrum prepared to prove this consent in certain doctrines, it will be found that two or more writers in a century are cited as evincing the unanimous opinion of that century, while double or fourfold the number, of equally important writers, belonging to the same period, on the other side, are passed over in silence. There is no rule to guide in the application of this test, and no uniformity in the manner of its use.

While, therefore, it is admitted that there has been a stream of doctrine flowing down uninterruptedly from the days of the Apostles, it is denied, as a matter of fact, that there has been any uninterrupted or general consent in any doctrine not clearly revealed in the Sacred Scriptures; and not even in reference to such clearly revealed doctrines, beyond the narrow limits of essential truths. And it is, moreover, denied that in any external, visible, organized Church, can the rule, quod semper, quod ab omnibus, be applied even to essential doctrines. The argument, therefore, of Romanists in favor of their peculiar doctrines, derived from general consent, is utterly untenable and fallacious. This is virtually admitted by the most zealous advocates of tradition. “Not only,” says Professor Newman,7575Lectures, ut supra, pp. 225, 226. “is the Church Catholic bound to teach the truth, but she is divinely guided to teach it; her witness of the Christian faith is a matter of promise as well as of duty; her discernment of it is secured by a heavenly, as well as by a human rule. She is indefectible in it; and therefore has not only authority to enforce it, but is of authority to declaring it. The Church not only transmits the faith by human means, but has a supernatural gift for that purpose; that doctrine which is true, considered as an historical fact, is true also because she teaches it.” The author of the Oxford Tract, No. 85, after saying, “We believe mainly because the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries unanimously believed,”7676Oxford Tracts, No. 85, p. 102. adds, “Why should not the Church be divine? The burden of proof surely is on the other side. I will accept her doctrines, and her rites, and her Bible — not one, and not the other, but all, — till I have clear proof that she is mistaken. It is I feel God’s will that I should do so; and besides, I love these her possessions — I love her Bible, her doctrines, and her rites; and therefore, I believe.”7777Ibid. p. 115. The Romanist then believes because the Church believes. This is the ultimate reason. The Church believes, not because she can historically prove that her doctrines have been received from the Apostles, but because she is supernaturally guided to know the truth. “Common consent,” therefore, is practically abandoned, and tradition resolves itself into the present faith of the Church.

Tradition not available by the People.

4. Protestants object to tradition as part of the rule of faith, because it is not adapted to that purpose. A rule of faith to the people must be something which they can apply; a standard by which they can judge. But this unwritten revelation is not contained in any one volume accessible to the people, and intelligible by them. It is scattered through the ecclesiastical records of eighteen centuries. It is absolutely impossible for the people to learn what it teaches. How can they tell whether the Church in all ages has taught the doctrine of transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the Mass, or any other popish doctrine. They must take all such doctrines upon trust, i.e., on the faith of the extant Church. But this is to deny that to them tradition is a rule of faith. They are required to believe, on the peril of their souls, doctrines, the pretended evidence of which it is impossible for them to ascertain or appreciate.

5. Romanists argue that such is the obscurity of the Scriptures, that not only the people, but the Church itself needs the aid of tradition in order to their being properly understood. But if the Bible, a comparatively plain book, in one portable volume, needs to be thus explained, What is to explain the hundreds of folios in which these traditions are recorded? Surely a guide to the interpretation of the latter must be far more needed than one for the Scriptures.

Tradition destroys the Authority of the Scriptures.

6. Making tradition a part of the rule of faith subverts the authority of the Scriptures. This follows as a natural and unavoidable consequence. If there be two standards of doctrine of equal authority, the one the explanatory, and infallible interpreter of the other, it is of necessity the interpretation which determines the faith of the people. Instead, therefore, of our faith resting on the testimony of God as recorded in his Word, it rests on what poor, fallible, often fanciful, prejudiced, benighted men, tell us is the meaning of that word. Man and his authority take the place of God. As this is the logical consequence of making tradition a rule of faith, so it is an historical fact that the Scriptures have been made of no account wherever the authority of tradition has been admitted. Our Lord said, that the Scribes and Pharisees made the word of God of no effect by their traditions; that they taught for doctrines the commandments of men. This is no less historically true of the Church of Rome. A great mass of doctrines, rites, ordinances, and institutions, of which the Scriptures know nothing, has been imposed on the reason, conscience, and life of the people. The Roman Catholic religion of our day, with its hierarchy, ritual, image and saint worship; with its absolutions, indulgences, and its despotic power over the conscience and the life of the individual, is as little like the religion of the New Testament, as the present religion of the Hindus with its myriad of deities, its cruelties, and abominations, is like the simple religion of their ancient Vedas. In both cases similar causes have produced similar effects. In both there has been a provision for giving divine authority to the rapidly accumulating errors and corruptions of succeeding ages.

7. Tradition teaches error, and therefore cannot be divinely controlled so as to be a rule of faith. The issue is between Scripture and tradition. Both cannot be true. The one contradicts the other. One or the other must be given up. Of this it least no true Protestant has any doubt. All the doctrines peculiar to Romanism, and for which Romanists plead the authority of Scripture, Protestants believe to be anti-scriptural; and therefore they need no other evidence to prove that tradition is not to be trusted either in matters of faith or practice.

The Scriptures not received on the Authority of Tradition.

8. Romanists argue that Protestants concede the authority of tradition, because it is on that authority they receive the New Testament as the word of God. This is not correct. We do not believe the New Testament to be divine on the ground of the testimony of the Church. We receive the books included in the canonical Scriptures on the twofold ground of internal and external evidence. It can be historically proved that those books were written by the men whose names they bear; and it can also be proved that those men were the duly authenticated organs of the Holy Ghost. The historical evidence which determines the authorship of the New Testament is not exclusively that of the Christian fathers. The testimony of heathen writers is, in some respects, of greater weight than that of the fathers themselves. We may believe on the testimony of English history, ecclesiastical and secular, that the Thirty-Nine Articles were framed by the English Reformers, without being traditionists. In like manner we may believe that the books of the New Testament were written by the men whose names they bear without admitting tradition to be a part of the rule of faith.

Besides, external evidence of any kind is a very subordinate part of the ground of a Protestant’s faith in the Scripture. That ground is principally the nature of the doctrines therein revealed, and the witness of the Spirit, with and by the truth, to the heart and conscience. We believe the Scriptures for much the same reason that we believe the Decalogue.

The Church is bound to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made it free, and not to be again entangled with the yoke of bondage, — a bondage not only to human doctrines and institutions, but to soul-destroying errors and superstitions.


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