Page images
PDF
EPUB

mish church, which cannot be proved from Scripture, such as, the mutilation of the Lord's Supper, the celibacy of the clergy, the distinction of meats, purgatory, pilgrimages, indulgences, the worship of images and relics, the canonization of saints," &c. &c. Now, she cannot pretend that all these were received from the Apostles, for some of them are in direct repugnance to the plain declarations of Scripture; and the occasion of the introduction of some of them is matter of history, and acknowledged by the Romanists themselves. And surely, it is not a very convincing argument of the apostolical origin of doctrines or ceremonies, that we do not know when they took their rise.

But the argument now under consideration, relinquishes this ground, and goes back to the Scriptures as the foundation of faith, but insists, that the true interpretation of Scripture can only be known by tradition. On which we remark

That many things in Scripture are so clear, that they stand in need of no interpretation. They are already as plain as any exposition can make them. Who wants tradition to teach him, that Christ is the Son of God; was born of the Virgin Mary; was crucified under Pontius Pilate; rose again the third day; and ascended to heaven, whence he will come again to judge the world? If we cannot understand the plain declarations of Scripture, neither could we understand an exposition. If we cannot know what the Apostles and Evangelists mean, in their plainest declarations, when we have their very words before us, how shall we know what is the meaning of the vague language of tradition?

There are many parts of the New Testament, of which tradition has handed down no interpretation. If we wish to know their meaning, it is in vain that we apply to the Fathers for instruction. They are silent. They have not commented on these books and passages. To which of the Fathers shall I go for an exposition of the Book of Revelation? Or, will the Pope himself

, aided by all his cardinals, or by an ecumenical council, undertake to give us the true interpretation of this prophecy? It cannot be true, that Scripture can be interpreted only by tradition, unless we agree to give up a large part of the New Testament, as wholly incapable of being understood.

We cannot build our faith on the interpretation of the Fathers, in all cases, because they often fall into palpable mistakes, which is not denied by the Romanists themselves; and again, they differ among themselves. How, then, can it be known what that interpretation is, which was received from the

[ocr errors]

TO THE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE.

209

Apostles? Must I follow JUSTIN, or IRENÆUS, or CLEMENT of Alexandria ? or must I believe in all the allegorical interpretations contained in the Homilies of ORIGEN, according to which the plainest passages are made to mean something perfectly foreign from the literal sense ? If the tradition which brings down this interpretation is not found in the writings of the Fathers, where is it? And how has it come down? Surely, that which was never mentioned nor recorded by the ancient church, ought not to be received as an apostolical tradition ; for, as the great CHILLINGWORTH says, " A silent tradition is like a silent thunder," a thing inconceivable.—But we shall be told, that the Church has preserved this deposit, and can testify that it was derived from the Apostles. What Church ? And where is her testimony? And how do we know that, among such a mass of traditions, some have not crept in, which originated in other sources than the teaching of Christ and his Apostles ? Who kept these traditions securely, when the Church was overrun with Gothic ignorance and barbarism? Who kept this treasure unadulterated, when Arianism was predominant ? If there be such an oral law, containing an exposition of Scripture, how has it happened that there have existed such dissensions about doctrine, in the Romish Church itself? And as it is acknowledged that many usages of the Church have had their origin, long since the Apostles' days, what authority is there for these innovations ? *If the authority of the Church was sufficient to establish these, it could as easily establish all the rest, and there is no need of apostolical tradition: but if there is a distinction to be made between observ ances derived from the Apostles, and such as have been invented by men, how can we draw the line between them?

An implicit believer in the infallibility of the Pope, would deem it sufficient to answer, that his Holiness at Rome knows certainly what is apostolical, and what not; what is obligatory, and what not.

All we have to do, is to believe what he believes, or what he tells us to believe. Now, without disputing the pretensions of the Bishop of Rome to such extraordinary knowledge, at present, I would ask, if we must go to an infallible judge to learn what are apostolical traditions, what use is there in traditions ? Why does not this infallible teacher declare at once what is truth, in all cases, without the trouble of searching into antiquity after traditions, which never can be

But if it be alleged, that the traditions which ought to be received as the rule of our faith, are such as were universal, and

found ?

[ocr errors]

concerning which there cannot be any doubt, I answer, that many such traditions may indeed be found; but what do they respect ?_those very doctrines which are most plainly and frequently inculcated in Scripture, and of which we need no exposition; for, as was said before, they are expressed as perspicuously as any exposition can be. But it affords us satisfaction to find the Church openly professing, from the beginning, those truths which we find recorded in Scripture. If it does not add confirmation to our faith, in these points, it gives us pleasure to find such a harmony in the belief of true Christians.

Finally, it is dangerous to rely upon traditions. Heretics, in all ages,

sheltered themselves under this doctrinė. Those with whom Tertullian contended, alleged that the Apostles did not know every thing necessary, as Christ declared he had many things to say, which they could not bear yet; or, there were some things which they did not teach publicly, nor commit to writing, but communicated privately to a few chosen persons, and therefore they declined the authority of Scripture. The same is true of those against whom Irenæus wrote. They appealed from Scripture to tradition, and he answers them by showing, that universal tradition was conformable to Scripture.

Eusebius informs us, that Artemon, who asserted that Christ was a mere man, pretended that he had learnt from tradition, that all the Apostles were of his opinion.

Thus, also, Clement of Alexandria says, “ That Basilides gloried in having received his doctrine, through a few hands, from Peter; and Valentinus gloried in having been instructed by one who had been a disciple of Paul.”+ The Marcionites professed to have received their doctrines from St Matthew. The Arians, as appears by an oration against them by Athanasius, appealed to tradition for the confirmation of their tenets.

In fact, this doctrine of unwritten traditions, has been justly compared to Pandora's box, which is calculated to fiil the world with evils and heresies.

But not only have heretics availed themselves of this corrupt fountain, but good men have been deceived by lending too credulous an ear to traditions.

Papias, one of the hearers of John the Apostle, was a great collector of traditions. He was inquisitive to know what each of the Apostles had, at any time, said : and there was some chance of coming at the truth from oral tradition, by one who Libr. v. c. 28.

+ Strom. xiii.

*

was a hearer of one of the Apostles. But what valuable information did this good man obtain by all his inquiries, which is not in Scripture ? Let Eusebius answer : “ Papias adopted many paradoxical opinions by giving heed to unwritten traditions (ragadorews aygapou), and received certain strange parables of our Saviour, mixed with fabulous things, among which was the error of the Chiliasts, by which many other excellent men were deceived, paying too much deference to antiquity and unwritten traditions. Even such men as Irenæus, Appollinarius, Tertullian, Victorinus, and Lactantius, were misled by these ancient traditions, so that they adopted an opinion for which there is no foundation in Sacred Scripture, and not only so, but which is repugnant to the doctrine of Christ and his Apostles."

Clement of Alexandria, too, than whom no man of the ancient church was more celebrated, speaks of certain persons who had taken much pains to preserve the sayings of the Apostles, handed down by tradition, among whom he mentions a Hebrew, who is supposed to be Papias; but when he comes to tell us what he had learned from these unwritten traditions, which is not contained in Scripture, it amounts to this: “ That there was a public doctrine and a secret doctrine; the one exoteric, and the other esoteric; that the former was committed to writing, and was in the hands of all; but the latter was communicated secretly to chosen disciples.” And, if we may judge of the secret doctrine handed down by tradition, from some specimens of it which he had learned, we will not appreciate unwritten traditions very highly, in comparison with the written word. Among these, is the opinion, that the Greek Philosophy answered the same purpose as the Law of Moses, and was a schoolmaster to bring those that professed it unto Christ; that this philosophy, as well as the Law of Moses, was able to justify men; and that there were many ways of obtaining life. From the same tradition he teaches, that Christ's ministry was finished in one year, which opinion Irenæus ascribes to heretics, and delares it as a tradition from John, that Christ, when he was crucified, was nearly fifty years of age. Clement relates it as a tradition, « That the Apostles, after their death, went and preached to the dead, who descended with the Apostles into a place of water, and then came up alive,” and many other like things.

There is much reason to believe, that the corruption of the church, which commenced about this time, was owing to a

Strom. lib. i.

S

disposition which began to be indulged, of lending too credulous an ear to traditions, and to Apocryphal writings.

But among the Fathers, no one gave himself up so entirely to unwritten traditions, and Apocryphal fables, as Epiphanius. His writings abound with things of this kind; but who would assert that we are bound to receive these stories as articles of faith? Even the Romish church, with all her store of legends, will not receive, as true and necessary, all that is handed down by tradition from one and another of the Fathers. *

From what has been said, therefore, the conclusion is clear, that the Scriptures are complete without unwritten traditions; that no articles of faith, nor institutions of worship, concerning which the Scriptures are silent, have come down to us by tradition; that we have uniform, universal tradition, on those points which are plainly taught in Scripture; that many things pretended to have been received from the Apostles by tradition, cannot be traced to them; and that many others things made equally necessary by the Romish church, can be proved to have originated many hundreds of years since the death of the Apostles. It has also been shown, that there is no certain method of distinguishing between what is Apostolical, and what has been derived from other sources, unless we make the Scriptures our standard; that tradition cannot be our guide even in interpreting Scripture; and finally, that tradition has been the common refuge of heretics, and has greatly misled good and orthodox men, by inducing them to adopt wild theories, fabulous stories, and paradoxical opinions, some of which are directly repugnant to Scripture.

The traditions of the Romish church stand on no higher ground than the traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees, in the time of our Saviour; but he rejected these traditions as having no authority, and as making void the law of God. “Why do ye,” says Christ, “also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition ?-_Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Howbeit, in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” The same questions and reproofs may, with equal propriety, be addressed to the Pope, and the doctors of the Romish church.

"To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to these, it is because there is no light in them.”

Thus we have brought this work to a close; and it affords us pleasure to believe, that most who read these pages, will * Note H. + Matt. xv, 3, 6. I. Mark vii, 7. § Isaiah viii, 20.

But we say,

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »