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But if, when they published their writings, they had already been led by the Spirit into all truth, what hindered them from comprising and leaving on record in those writings a perfect system of evangelical doctrine? Let us grant our opponents, however, what they ask; only let them enumerate those things which required to be revealed, and are not contained in the apostolical writings. If they dare to attempt this, I will reply in the words of Augustine,“ Where the Lord has been silent, which of us can say, These things or those are intended; and if he dare to say so, how will he prove it?” But why do I contend a point that is unnecessary? For even children know that the apostolic writings, which these men represent as incomplete and essentially deficient, contain the fruit of that revelation which the Lord then promised them.
XV. What, say they, did not Christ place the doctrines and decrees of the Church beyond all controversy, when he commanded him who should dare to contradict it, to be regarded“ as a heathen man and a publican?” (a) In the first place, Christ in that text makes no mention of doctrine, but only asserts the authority of the Church in pronouncing censures for the correction of vices, in order that its judgment may not be opposed by any who are admonished or reproved. But leaving this remark, it is astonishing, that they have no more modesty than to presume to boast of that passage. For what will they extort from it, but that it is unlawful to despise the consent of the Church, which never consents to any thing except the truth of the word of God? The Church is to be heard, they say. Who denies it? For it pronounces nothing but from the word of the Lord. If they require any thing further, let them know that these words of Christ afford them no support. Nor ought it to be esteemed too contentious in me to insist so strenuously on this point, That it is not lawful for the Church to invent any new doctrine, or to teach and deliver, as of Divine authority, any thing more than the Lord hath revealed in his word. All persons of sound judgment perceive how exceedingly dangerous
(a) Matt. xviii. 17.
it would be if so much power were once granted to any man. For they see how wide a door is opened to the scoffs and cavils of the impious, if we assert that the decisions of men are to be received by Christians as articles of faith. It is also to be remarked, that Christ spoke according to the established order of his own time, and gave this name to the Sanhedrim, that his disciples might learn afterwards to reverence the solemn assemblies of the Church. And thus, on the principle of our adversaries, every city and village would have an equal liberty to frame new articles of faith.
XVI. The examples which they allege are nothing to the purpose. They say that the baptism of infants arose, not so much from any express command of scripture, as from the decree of the Church. It would be a most miserable asylum, if in defence of infant baptism, we were compelled to have recourse to the mere authority of the Church; but it will be shewn in another place, that the fact is very different. So when they object, that the Scriptures no where affirm what was pronounced in the council of Nice, that the Son is of the same substance with the Father, they do great injury to the Fathers of that council, as if they had presumptuously condemned Arius for having refused to subscribe to their language, while he professed all the doctrine which is contained in the writings of the prophets and apostles. The word consubstantial (opodolos) I confess, is not to be found in the scripture; but while on the one hand it is so often affirmed that there is but one God, and on the other Christ is so frequently called the true and eternal God, one with the Father, what have the Nicene Fathers done, but simply expressed the natural sense of the scripture, in declaring the Father and the Son to be of one and the same substance? And Theodoret the historian states, that Constantine the emperor, opened that council with the following preliminary address: “ In disputes on divine subjects we are to adhere to the doctrine of the holy Spirit; the books of the evangelists and apostles, with the oracles of the prophets, fully reveal to us the will of God. Wherefore, laying aside all discord, let us take the decision of all questions in debate from the words of the Spirit.” There was no one at that time who opposed these holy admonitions. No one objected, that the Church might add something of its own, that the Spirit had not revealed every thing to the apostles, or at least, that they had not transmitted the whole to posterity in writing, or any thing of the like nature. If what our adversaries contend for true, in the first place, Constantine acted unjustly in depriving the Church of its power; and in the next place, when none of the bishops rose to vindicate that power,
their silence was not to be excused from treachery, for on that occasion they must have betrayed the rights of the Church. But from the statement of Theodoret, that they readily received what was said by the emperor, it is evident that this novel dogma of our adversaries was at that time altogether unknown.
Councils; their Authority. THOUGH I should concede to our adversaries all the claims which they set up on behalf of the Church, yet this would effect but little towards the attainment of their object. For whatever is said respecting the Church, they immeately transfer to the councils, which they consider as representing the Church; and it may further be affirmed, that their violent contentions for the power of the Church, is with no other view than to ascribe all that they can extort to the Roman pontiff and his satellites. Before I enter on the discussion of this question, it is necessary for me to premise two brief observations. First, if in this chapter I am rather severe on our opponents, it is not that I would shew the ancient councils less honour than they deserve. I venerate them from my heart, and wish them to receive from all men the honour to which they are entitled; but here some limits must be observed, that we may derogate nothing from Christ. Now it is the prerogative of Christ, to preside over all councils, and to have no mortal man associated with him in that dignity. But I maintain, that he really presides only where he governs the whole assembly by his word and Spirit. Secondly, when I attribute to the councils less than our adversaries require, I am not induced to do this, from any fear that the councils would favour their cause and oppose ours. For as we are sufficiently armed by the word of the Lord, and need not seek any further assistance for the complete establishment of our doctrine, and the total subversion of popery, so on the other hand, if it were necessary, the ancient councils would furnish us in a great measure with sufficient arguments for both these objects.
II. Let us now come to the subject itself. If it be inquired what is the authority of councils according to the scriptures, there is no promise more ample or explicit than this declaration of Christ: “ Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”(6) But this belongs no less to every particular congregation than to a general council. The main stress of the question, however, does not lie in this, but in the annexed condition, that Christ will be in the midst of a council, then and then only, when it is assembled in his name. Wherefore, though our adversaries mention councils of bishops a thousand times, they will gain but little ground; nor will they prevail upon us to believe what they pretend, that such councils are directed by the Holy Spirit, till it shall have been proved, that they are assembled in the name of Christ. For it is equally as possible for impious and unfaithful bishops to conspire against Christ, as for pious and upright bishops to assemble together in his name. Of this we have ample proof in numerous decrees which have been issued by such councils; as will be seen in the course of this discussion. At present I only reply in one word, that the promise of Christ is exclusively restricted to those who “are gathered together in his name." Let us, therefore, define wherein this consists. I deny that they are assembled in the name of Christ, who, rejecting the command of God, which prohibits any dimingtion of his word, or the smallest addition to it, (c) determine
(b) Matt. xviii. 20,
(c) Deut. iy. 2. Rev. xxii. 18, 19.
every thing according to their own pleasure; who, not content with the oracles of the scripture, which constitute the only rule of perfect wisdom, invent something new out of their own heads. Since Christ has not promised to be present in all councils, but has added a particular mark to discriminate true and legitimate councils from others, it certainly behoves us by no means to neglect this distinction. This was the covenant which God anciently made with the levitical priests, that they should teach their people from his mouth; (d) he always required the same of the prophets; and we see that a similar law was imposed upon the apostles. Those who violate this covenant, God neither dignifies with the honour of the priesthood, nor invests with any authority. Let our adversaries solve this difficulty, if they wish me to submit my faith to the decrees of men, independently of the word of God.
III. For their supposition, that no truth remains in the Church, unless it be found among the pastors, and that the Church itself stands, no longer than it appears in general councils, is very far from having been always correct, if the prophets have left us any authentic records of their times. In the days of Isaiah, there was a Church at Jerusalem, which God had not yet forsaken: nevertheless he speaks of the priests in the following manner: “ His watchmen are blind; they are all ignorant; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber: they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.” (e)Hosea speaks in a similar manner: “ The watchman of Ephraim was with my God; but the prophet is a snare of a fowler in all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God.” (f) By thus ironically connecting them with God, he shews that their priesthood was a vain pretence. The Church continued also to the time of Jeremiah. Let us hear what he says of the pastors." From the prophet even unto the priest, every one dealeth falsely.” (8) Again, “ The prophets prophesy lies in my name; I sent them not, neither have I com
(d) Mal. ii. 5-7. (e) Isaiah lvi, 10, 11. (f) Hosea ix. 8. (8) Jerem. vi. 13.