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THE

CHURCHMAN'S MONTHLY REVIEW

AND CHRONICLE.

OCTOBER, 1842.

A LIBRARY OF THE FATHERS OF THE HOLY CATHOLIC

CHURCH : translated by Members of the English Church. Vols. I–VII. Oxford: Parker.

Oxford: Parker. 1839-1841.

THE “ Library of the Fathers" may be fairly regarded as an honest, though, perhaps, not very successful, attempt to supply the less learned of the clergy and laity, who are attached to traditionary principles, with something like the same means of becoming acquainted with their rule of faith, as are afforded to Protestants by vernacular translations of the Bible. Something of the kind was, upon the principles of the editors, clearly indispensable. Rejecting, as they do, the more compendious methods of information which others deem sufficient to satisfy their faith— whether narrowed, for the greater convenience, to the judgment of the British churches, or extended, for the greater dignity, to the sentence of the ample patriarchate of the west-admitting, as they do, that the voice of the present Church can never fill a Catholic ear, until tuned into the same harmony with which it spoke, before schism confounded the language of the builders--it was plainly incumbent

upon them to lend some assistance to those who were anxiously looking out for some teachers upon whom they could place reliance, some authorised expounders of the written word, who could animate its dead letter by the vivifying influence of the spoken word. In the preface to St. Cyril's Catechesis, Mr. New

Ост. 1842. .

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man has endeavoured to point out some of the most important advantages to be derived from a work of this nature. His statements are curious, and worthy of serious attention

There seems,” says he, "to have been no Catholic exposition of Scripture, no traditionary comment upon its continuous text. _The subject-matter of Catholic tradition, as preserved in the writings of the Fathers, is not Scripture interpretation or proof, but certain doctrines, professing to be those of the Gospel; and since among these we find this, 'that Scripture contains all the Gospel 'doctrines,' we infer that, according to the mind of the fathers, those very doctrines which they declare to be the Christian faith, are contained in, and are to be proved from, Scripture. But where they occur in Scripture cannot be ascertained from the fathers, except so far as the accidental course of controversy has brought out their joint witness concerning certain great passages, on which they do seem to have had traditionary information. The Arian and other heresies obliged them to appeal to Scripture in behalf of a certain cardinal doctrine which they held by uninterrupted tradition; and thus have been the means of pointing out to us particular texts in which are contained the great truths which were assailed. But while we are thus furnished with a portion of the Scripture proof of Catholic doctrine, guaranteed to us by the unanimous consent of the Church, it is natural also, under the circumstances above mentioned, that many of the discussions which occurred should contain appeals to Scripture of a less cogent character, and evidencing the exercise of mere private judgment upon the text in default of Catholic tradition. The early Church had read Scripture not for argument but for edification : it is not wonderful that though holding the truth, and seeing it in the inspired text, and often seeing there what we fail to see, she should nevertheless be as little able to distribute exactly each portion of the truth to each of its places in the text, and to analyze the grounds of the impressions which the whole conveyed, as religious persons in the private walks of life may now-a-days. Accordingly her divines, one by one, while they witness to the truth itself most sufficiently as speaking from tradition, yet often prove it insufficiently, as relying necessarily on private judgment. For instance, the text, 'He that hath seen me hath seen the Father, is taken by St. Cyril, agreeably with other early writers, as a proof that Christ is in all things like (ouoios èv não iv) to the Father; and the text, 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit,' as a proof of the necessity of baptism. But though there are many of equal cogency, there are many also about which there may be fairly difference of opinion, as when he interprets, Surely God is in thee,' (Isaiah xlv. 14.) of the indwelling of the Father in the Son.” (pp. xxiv. xxv.)

We shall not pause now-we are greatly tempted, yet we will not pause—to notice the curious distinction-prudently insinuated, if not boldly expressed—between an edifying and a sound interpretation of Scripture: but we cannot observe, without astonishment, that a writer so discreetly circumspect as Mr. Newman should have selected as a doubtful exposition, the mere result of private judgment in quest of edification, not of instruction—a gloss defended by almost as great a consent of witnesses as any interpretation " guaranteed” by primitive antiquity. Not alone the well-instructed and accomplished doctors of the Nicene church, Nazianzen, Jerome, Hilary, not only the earlier Cyprian and Tertullian—but even the Semi-Arian Eusebius, unite to sanction the sense which Cyril has attached to the text in question. If

unanimity then be a proof of Catholic tradition, why is it not so here? Can it be that there are still some lingering relics of that profane principle which divines call 'private judgment, and the vulgar common sense,' not yet wholly subdued in the well-disciplined understanding of such an obedient believer as Mr. Newman? Is there not room to suspect—in serious sadness is it not very evident—that the true ground of hesitation, in this as well as in a thousand other interpretations similarly circumstanced in all external respects, is not any uncertainty or dissonance in the voice of antiquity by which they are uttered, but their intrinsic incompatibility with the plain meaning of the words, of which they profess to be expositions ? By express admission, then, Mr. Newman has acknowledged, that the compass of Catholic exposition is extremely narrow; by consequential admission, he must be understood to allow that, even within this narrow circle, we cannot tread in reasonable security from the besetting demon of doubt. By surrendering to private judgment an exposition in which the Catholic doctors seem to have been agreed, he has implicitly confessed that such agreement is no certain proof of traditionary origin—that such a signature is no talisman against the uncertainties of private interpretation.

Where, then, is the treasure of Catholic tradition to be sought and found ? If anywhere, in a very different region. It is to be looked for in the tradition of doctrines--altogether separate from, and independent of, Scripture-transmitted through the unbroken continuity of the line of episcopal succession. This is the traditionary rule of faith ; a rule not only distinct from Scripture, but exclusive of it: for though its decisions do, accidentally as it were, require us to believe that somewhere or other in the Bible are to be found the doctrines which it binds upon our faith, yet in no case does it condescend to lend its ministry for the exposition of any single text of Scripture, or stoop to disentangle one single passage from the perplexities of private judgment; however it may at times interpose its imperious negative, to overrule the conclusions to which the language of the inspired writers may seem fitted to conduct our unassisted reason. If Scripture, then, without tradition, be necessarily inadequate as a rule of faith, on account of the uncertainties attendant upon its private interpretation, it is evident that it must be equally inadequate in combination with a tradition such as this: useful, perhaps, as a staple whence edifying allegories may be spun for the instruction of the faithful, or dialectic weapons forged for the annoyance of the infidels, but wholly useless and superfluous for the purposes of serious conviction, in the faith that is to save, and the practice that is to sanctify the world. A traditive rule, so exclusive as this, has hitherto been only claimed by the patrons of the Church of Rome. Parker's illconsidered and unsanctioned canon of 1571—though eagerly and erroneously appealed to by Mr. Newman, as favouring his tenets, and as an obligatory act of convocation-seems framed upon a totally different view of the importance of antiquity; providing, as it does, that 'nothing shall be taught by the preachers but what is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old and New Testaments, and what the old fathers have collected out of that very doctrine.' By the terms of this decree (even had it been ratified by the Queen and Lower House), the traditive rule proposed for our guidance would not be a document independent of Scripture, and exclusive of it, but a subordinate document, derived from Scripture as its source, and acquiring all its value by virtue of that honourable derivation. By the operation of this canon (if it had any legal operation), the preacher would be limited indeed in his use of the scriptural rule, by a reference to the labours of primitive expositors of that rule; but still no higher and independent standard of faith, besides the Scripture, would have been directly sanctioned as of divine authority in the Church.

“It was a wise regulation,” says Dr. Waterland, "formed with exquisite judgment and worded with the exactest caution. The canon does not order that they shall teach whatever had been taught by fathers; no, that would have been setting up a new rule of faith: neither does it say, they shall teach whatsoever the fathers had collected from Scripture; no, that would have been making them infallible interpreters, or infallible reasoners. The doctrine must be found first in Scripture. Only to be the more secure that we have found it there, the fathers are to be called in, to be, as it were, constant checks upon the presumption or wantonness of private interpretation."(Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity, c. vii. p. 445.)

Nay, it must be owned that St. Cyril himself appears by no means sufficiently conscious of the independent dignity which he might have claimed to himself, as an authorized conservator of the traditive Rule of Faith. “Concerning the divine and sacred mysteries,” he tells his catechumens :

“We ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the holy Scriptures, nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth; for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the holy Scriptures.

For the present, commit to memory the faith, merely listening to the words; and expect at the fitting, season the proof of each of its parts from the divine Scriptures. For the articles of the divine faith were not composed at the good pleasure of men; but the most important points chosen from all Scripture, make up the one teaching of the faith. And as the mustard-seed in a little grain contains many branches, thus also this faith, in a few words, hath enfolded in its bosom the whole knowledge of godliness contained both in the Old and New Testaments."— (pp. 42, 58.)

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Let us suppose a parallel case. Suppose that a cypher came into our possession containing rules for effecting some of the great operations which human science has for so many centuries been toiling to accomplish-the quadrature of the circle—the trisection of the angle—the projection of the grand arcanum. Puzzled by the mysterious symbols in which the sage has involved his wisdom, we give up the riddle in despair, until some fortunate accident brings us acquainted with a living disciple of the great ancient, who is said to have received by oral tradition from his lips the same method, divested of the cryptic characters in which the cypher had concealed, rather than preserved, instruction. Provided with this new, and manifestly superior source of knowledge, is it not plain that the mystical written record is wholly superseded by the speaking teacher ? That (although the conditions of the case require us to assent to the conclusion that the method which he details to us is substantially the same as that which the cypher would have indicated, if we could have read it) still, in the conduct of our work it is the clear and unambiguous purport of the oral tradition that is to be our rule, and not anything in any way arrived at through the doubtful symbols, which remain in themselves no less inexplicable than they were before? But were this living witness himself to warn us that no credit was to be given to his information except so far as it could be collected from the cypher itself that such information was also consigned in it; while, at the same time, he appeared as utterly ignorant as ourselves of any certain clue to the meaning of the signs of which that cypher was composed, should we not feel that all our former hopes were miserably baffled, and our minds again involved in all that perplexity and embarrassment from which his pompous pretensions had appeared to promise us deliverance ?

But let us see by what “probabilities and artifices of argument” Mr. Newman hopes to “ draw us aside” from the Rule of Faith emphatically commended by St. Cyril, and eagerly claimed by the Protestant churches. Is his rule more certain in its evidence, less ambiguous in its language, or more level to the ordinary capacities of mankind than the Holy Scriptures ?

“The works to be translated,” says Mr. N.," have been viewed simply and plainly in the light of witnesses to an historical fact, viz. the religion which the apostles transmitted to the early churches ; a fact to be ascertained as other past facts, by testimony, requiring the same kind of evidence, moral not demonstrative, open to the same difficulties of proof, and to be determined by the same practical judgment. It seems hardly conceivable that a fact so public and so great as the religion of the first Christians should be incapable of ascertainment, at least in its outlines; that it should so have passed away like a dream, that the most opposite opinions may at this day be maintained about it, without possibility of contradiction.

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