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Mr S.’s rule of faith.
§. 1. THE next thing to be considered is, of his resolution of this question; by which we shall know what his opinion is concerning the rule of faith; for that being known, the controversy between us will easily be stated.
His opinion in general is, that oral or practical tradition (in opposition to writing, or any other way that can be assigned) is the rule of faith. By oral or practical tradition, he means2020P. 41. “a delivery down from hand to hand (by words, and a constant course of frequent and visible actions, conformable to those words) of the sense and faith of forefathers.”
§. 2. Now, that I may bring the controversy between us to a clear state, I am first to take a more particular view of his opinion concerning the rule of faith, that so I may the better understand how much he attributes to oral tradition, and what to the Scriptures, or written tradition. And then I am to lay down the protestant rule of faith, that so it 233may appear how far we agree, and how far we differ. The sum of what he attributes to oral tradition, so far as can be collected out of so obscure and confused a discourse, may be reduced to these five heads:”
§. 3. First, That the doctrine of Christian religion, was delivered by Christ to the apostles, and by them published to the world; and that the age which first received it from the apostles, delivered it as they received it, without any change or corruption to their children, and they to theirs, and so it went on solely by this way of oral tradition. This is the sum of his explication of tradition, Disc. 5th.
§. 4. Secondly, That this way alone is not only sufficient to convey this doctrine down to all ages certainly, and without any alteration; but it is the only possible way that can be imagined of conveying down a doctrine securely from one age to an other. And this is the natural result of his discourse about the properties of a rule of faith: for if the true properties of a rule of faith do belong to oral tradition, then it is a sufficient means; and if those properties do solely and essentially appertain to it, and are incompatible to any thing else, (as he endeavours to prove) then it is impossible there should be any other way.
§. 5. Thirdly, That it is impossible this means should fail or miss of its end; that is, the doctrine of Christ being once put into this way of conveyance, it can neither cease to descend, nor be at any time corrupted or changed in its descent. This is that which his demonstrations pretend to prove.
§. 6. Fourthly, That the infallibility of oral tradition, or the impossibility of its failing, is a first and self-evident principle. This he frequently asserts throughout his book.234
§. 7. Fifthly, That this way of oral tradition hath de facto in all ages been acknowledged by Christians as the only way and means whereby the doctrine of Christianity hath been conveyed down to them. And this is that which he attempts to prove from the consent of authority.
§. 8. As for the Scriptures, he grants them in deed to have been written by men divinely inspired, and to contain a Divine doctrine, even the same which is delivered by oral tradition; so he tells us,2121P. 117. “it is certain the apostles taught the same doctrine they writ: but then he denies it to be of any use without oral tradition, because neither the letter nor sense of it can without that be ascertained: so he saith in his Letter to Dr. Casaubon:”2222P. 337. “As for the Scriptures, (ascertaining their letter and sense, which is done by tradition) it is clear they are of incomparable value, not only for the Divine doctrine contained in them, but also for many particular passages, whose source or first attestation, not being universal, nor their nature much practical, might possibly have been lost in their conveyance down by tradition.” Where, though he gives the Scriptures very good words, it is to be understood, provided they will be subordinate, and acknowledge that they owe their sense, and their being intelligible and useful, to oral tradition: for if any man shall presume to say, that this book hath any certain sense without oral tradition, or that God can write plainly and intelligibly, and that this book which he hath indited is so written, and doth not depend upon tradition for its sense and interpretation; then the most scurrilous language is not bad enough for the Scriptures: then, what are those 235sacred writings,2323Append. 4th, p. 319. but “ink variously figured in a book,2424P. 68. unsensed characters, waxen-natured words, not yet sensed, nor having any certain interpreter, but fit to be played upon diversely by quirks of wit?” that is, apt to blunder and confound, but to clear little or no thing.” These, with many other disgraceful terms, he very liberally bestows upon the Divine oracles; the consideration whereof, did it not minister too much horror, would afford some comfort; for, by this kind of rude usage so familiar with him towards his adversaries, one may reasonably conjecture, that he doth not reckon the Scriptures among his friends.
§. 9. And whereas he saith, that “the Scriptures have preserved many particular passages, which, because their source or first attestation was not universal, nor their nature much practical, might possibly have been lost in their conveyance down by tradition;” this is impossible according to his hypothesis; for if neither the Scripture letter, nor the certain sense of it as to the main body of Christian doctrine, could have been secured without oral tradition; that is, if we could not have known that those passages which contain the main points of Christ’s doctrine, either had been written by men divinely inspired, or what the sense of them was, but from the consonancy and agreement of those passages with the doctrine which was orally preached by the apostles; how can we be certain either of the letter or sense of other particular passages which must necessarily want this confirmation from oral tradition, because “their first attestation was not universal, nor their nature much practical?” Nay, his discourse plainly implies that we can have no security at all, either of the letter or sense of any 236other parts of Scripture, but only those which are coincident with the main body of Christian doctrine: as is evident from these words:”2525P. 116. “Tradition established, the church is provided of a certain and infallible rule to preserve a copy of the Scripture-letter truly significative of Christ’s sense, as far as it is coincident with the main body of Christian doctrine preached at first;” because “sense writ in men’s hearts by tradition, can easily guide them to correct the alteration of the outward letter.” This I perceive plainly is the thing they would be at; they would correct the “outward letter of Scripture” by “sense written in their hearts; and then, instead of leaving out the second commandment, they would change it into a precept of “giving due worship to images,” according to the council of Trent; and a thousand other alterations they must make in the Bible, to make it truly significative of the sense of their church. But surely the outward letter of other passages of Scripture, which were not intended to signify points of faith, is equally liable to alterations: and yet the church is not by tradition provided of any way to correct these alterations when they happen; because tradition doth, as this corollary implies, only furnish the church with a certain and infallible rule of preserving a copy of the Scripture-letter, so far as it is coincident with the main body of Christian doctrine.
§. 10. Again he tells them,2626P. 117. “Tradition established, the church is provided of a certain and infallible rule to interpret Scripture-letter by, so as to arrive certainly at Christ’s sense, as far as the letter concerns the body of Christian doctrine preached at first, or points requisite 237to salvation.” So that whatever he may attribute to Scripture for fashion’s sake, and to “avoid calumny with the vulgar,” as he says very ingeniously in his explication of the 15th corollary; nevertheless it is plain, that, according to his own hypo thesis, he cannot but look upon it as perfectly useless and pernicious. That it is altogether useless according to his hypothesis is plain, for the main body of Christian doctrine is securely conveyed to us with out it, and it can give no kind of confirmation to it because it receives all its confirmation from it; only the church is ever and anon put to a great deal of trouble to correct the alteration of the outward let ter, by tradition and sense written in their hearts. And as for all other parts of Scripture which are not coincident with the main body of Christian doctrine, we can have no certainty that the outward letter is true, nor, if we could, can we possibly arrive at any certain sense of them. And that it is intolerably pernicious, according to his hypothesis, is plain, because2727P. 40. “every silly and up start heresy fathers itself upon it;” and when men leave tradition, (as he supposeth all heretics do) the Scripture is the most dangerous engine that could have been invented, being to such persons only2828P. 68 “waxen-natured words, not sensed, nor having any certain interpreter, but fit to be played upon diversely by quirks of wit: that is, apt to blunder and confound, but to clear little or nothing.” And, indeed, if his hypo thesis were true, the Scriptures might well de serve all the contemptuous language which he useth against them; and 2929Apology for Tradition, p. 165.Mr White’s comparison of them with Lilly’s almanack, would not only. be pardonable but proper; 238and (unless he added it out of prudence, and for the people’s sake, whom he may think too superstitiously conceited of those books) he might have spared that cold excuse which he makes for using this similitude, that “it was agreeable rather to the impertinency of the objection than the dignity of the subject.” Certain it is, if these men are true to their own principles, that notwithstanding the high reverence and esteem pretended to be borne by them and their church to the Scriptures, they must heartily despise them, and wish them out of the way: and even look upon it as a great oversight of the Divine Providence to trouble his church with a book, which, if their discourses be of any consequence, can stand catholics in no stead at all, and is so dangerous and mischievous a weapon in the hands of heretics.
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