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Mr. S.’s demonstration a priori.
§. 1. I COME now to examine his demonstrations of this self-evident principle (as he often calls it), that oral tradition is a certain and infallible way of conveying Christ’s doctrine from one age to another, without any corruption or change; which is to say, that it is impossible but that this rule should always have been kept to. That this is not a self-evident principle, needs no other evidence than that he goes about to demonstrate it. But yet, notwithstanding this, I think he hath as much reason to call this a self-evident principle, as to call his proofs of it demonstrations.
§. 2. In order to his demonstration a priori, he lays143143P. 59, 60. these four grounds, which I shall set down in his own words: “First, that Christian doctrine was at first unanimously settled by the apostles, in the hearts of the faithful, dispersed in great multitudes over several parts of the world. 333Secondly, That this doctrine was firmly believed by all those faithful to be the way to heaven, and the contradicting or deserting it to be the way to damnation: so that the greatest hopes and fears imaginable were, by engaging the Divine authority, strongly applied to the minds of the first believers, encouraging them to the adhering to that doctrine, and deterring them from relinquishing it; and, indeed, infinitely greater than any other whatever, springing from any temporal consideration: and that this was in all ages the persuasion of the faithful. Thirdly, That hopes of good and fears of harm strongly applied, are the causes of actual will. Fourthly, That the thing was feasible or within their power: that what they were bred to was knowable by them. This put, it follows as certainly, that a great number or body of the first believers, and after faithful in each age, that is, from age to age, would continue to hold themselves, and teach their children as themselves had been taught, that is, would follow and stick to tradition; as it doth, that a cause put actually causing produceth its effect.” This is his demonstration, with the grounds of it.
§. 3. To shew the vanity and weakness of this pretended demonstration, 1 shall assail it these three ways, by shewing: First, That if the grounds of it were true, they would conclude too much, and prove that to be impossible which common experience evinceth, and himself must grant to have been. Secondly, That his main grounds are apparently false. Thirdly, That his demonstration is confuted by clear and undeniable instances to the contrary.334
The first answer to this demonstration.
§. 1. IF the grounds of it were true, they would conclude too much, and prove that to be impossible which common experience evinceth, and himself must grant to have been. For if these two principles be true, “that the greatest hopes and fears are strongly applied to the minds of all Christians; and that those hopes and fears strongly applied are the cause of actual will to adhere constantly to Christ’s doctrine;” then, from hence it follows, that none that entertain this doctrine can ever fall from it, because falling from it is inconsistent with an actual will of adhering constantly to it: for supposing (as he doth) certain and constant causes of actual will to adhere to this doctrine, those who entertain it must actually will to adhere to it, because “a cause put actually causing produceth its effect,” which is constant adherence to it. And if this were true, these two things would be impossible: First, That any Christian should turn apostate or heretic; Secondly, That any Christian should live wickedly: both which not only frequent and undoubted experience doth evince, but himself must grant de facto to have been.
§. 2. First, It would be impossible that any Christian should turn apostate or heretic. Heresy, according to him, is nothing else but the renouncing of tradition. Now he tells us,144144P. 60. “That the first renouncers of tradition must have been true believers or holders of it ere they renounced it;” and I suppose there is the 335same reason for apostates. But if all Christians or true believers (as he calls them) have these arguments of hope and fear strongly applied, and hope and fear strongly applied be the cause of actual will to adhere to this doctrine; it is necessary all Christians should adhere to it, and impossible there should be either apostates or heretics. For if these causes be put in “all the faithful actually causing (as the grounds of his demonstration suppose), and indefectibleness be the proper and necessary effect of these causes,” as he also saith,145145P. 75. then it is impossible, that, where these causes are put, there should be any defection: for a proper and necessary effect cannot but be where the causes of such an effect are put, especially if they be put actually causing; and consequently, it is impossible that any single Christian should ever either totally apostatize or fall into heresy, that is, renounce tradition.
§. 3. And that this is a genuine consequence from these principles (though he will not acknowledge it here, because he saw it would ruin his demonstration) is liberally acknowledged by him in other parts of his discourse. For he tells us,146146P. 54. “That it exceeds all the power of nature (abstracting from the causes of madness and violent disease) to blot the knowledge of this doctrine out of the soul of one single believer;” and147147P. 78. that “since no man can hold contrary to his knowledge, nor doubt of what he holds, nor change and innovate without knowing it doth so, it is a manifest impossibility a whole age should fall into an absurdity so inconsistent with the nature of one single man.” And,148148P. 89. that “it is, perhaps, impossible for one single man 336to attempt to deceive posterity” by renouncing tradition. Which passages laid together amount to thus much: that it is impossible that tradition should fail in any one single person. And though in the passage last cited he speaks faintly, and with a perhaps, as if he apprehended some danger in speaking too peremptorily, yet any one will easily see the last to be as impossible as any of the rest. And he himself elsewhere, being in the full career of his bombast rhetoric, delivers it roundly without fear or wit:”149149P. 54. “Sooner may the sinews of entire nature by overstraining crack, and she lose all her activity and motion, that is, herself, than one single part of that innumerable multitude which integrate that vast testification which we call tradition, can possibly be violated.”
§. 4. But, it may be, we deal too hardly with him, and press his demonstration too far, because he tells us he only intends by it to prove that the generality of Christians will always adhere to tradition. But if he intended to prove no more but this, he should then have brought a demonstration that would have concluded no more; but this concludes of all as well as of the generality of Christians. A clear evidence mat it is no demonstration, because it concludes that which is evidently false, that there can be no apostates or heretics. Besides, supposing his demonstration to conclude only that the generality of Christians would always adhere to tradition, this is as plainly confuted by experience, if there be any credit to be given to history. St. Jerome tells us,150150Chron. ad Annum Christ. 352. that Liberius, bishop of Rome (for all “his particular title to infallibility built upon tradition,” as Mr. S. speaks, 337coroll. 28.) turned Arian. And that151151Ad An. 363. “Ananism was established by the synod of Ariminum,” which was a council more general than that of Trent. And that152152Ad. An. 364. “almost all the churches in the whole world under the names of peace and of the emperor, were polluted by communion with the Arians.” Again, that153153Advers. Lucifer. “under the Emperor Constantius (Eusebius and Hippatius being consuls) infidelity was subscribed under the names of unity and faith.” And,154154Ibid. “that the whole world groaned, and wondered to see itself turned Arian.” And he155155Ibid. uses this as an argument to the Luciferians, to receive into the church those who had been defiled with the heresy of Arius, because the number of those who had kept themselves orthodox was exceeding small: “For (says he) the synod of Nice, which consisted of above three hundred bishops, received eight Arian bishops, whom they might have cast out without any great loss to the church. I wonder, then, how some, and those the followers of the Nicene faith, can think that three confessors (viz. Athanasius, Hilarius, Eusebius) ought not to do that in case of necessity, for the good and safety of the whole world, which so many and so excellent persons did voluntarily.” It seems Arianism had prevailed very far, when St. Jerome could not name above three eminent persons in the church who had preserved themselves untainted with it. Again,156156In Epist. ad Galat. l. 3.. “Arius in Alexandria was at first but one spark; but because it was not presently extinguished, it broke out into a flame which devoured the whole world.” Gregory Nazianzen157157Orat. 20, 21. likewise tells us to the same purpose, 338that “the Arian heresy seized upon the greatest part of the church:”” and, to shew that he knew nothing of Mr. S.’s demonstration of the indefectibility of the generality of Christians, he asks,158158Orat. 25. “Where are those that define the church by multitude, and despise the little flock?” &c. And this heresy was of a long continuance, for, from its first rise, which happened in the twentieth year of Constantine, it continued (as Joh. Abbas159159Chron. ad Annum octavum Maurit. hath calculated it) two hundred and sixty-six years. And the Pelagian heresy (if we may believe Bradwardine, one of the great champions of the church against it) did in a manner prevail as much as Arianism, as the said author complains in his preface to his book,160160Causa Dei. that “almost the whole world was run after Pelagius into error.” Will Mr. S. now say, that, in the height of these heresies, “the generality of Christians did firmly adhere to tradition?” If he say they did, let him answer the express testimonies produced to the contrary: but if they did not, then his demonstration also fails as to “the generality of Christians.” And if the greater part of Christians may fall off from tradition, what demonstration can make it impossible for the lesser to do so?” Who will say it is in reason impossible that a thousand persons should relinquish tradition, though nine hundred of them have already done it, and though the remainder be no otherwise secured from doing so, than those were who have actually relinquished it?” Now is not this a clear evidence that this which he calls a demonstration a priori is no such thing?” Because every demonstration a priori must be from causes which are necessary, whereas his demonstration is from voluntary 339causes. So that unless he can prove that voluntary causes are necessary, he shall never demonstrate that it is impossible for the generality of any company of men to err, who have every one of them free will, and are every one of them liable to passion and mistake.
§. 5. From all this it appears, that his whole discourse about the original and progress of heresy, and the multitudes of heretics in several ages, is as clear a confutation of his own demonstration as can be desired. The only thing that he offers in that discourse, to prevent this objection which he fore saw it liable to, is this: “It is not (says he161161P. 65.) to be expected but that some contingencies should have place where a whole species in a manner is to be wrought upon; it suffices that the causes to preserve faith indeficiently entire, are as efficacious as those which are laid for the preservation of mankind; the virtue of faith not being to continue longer than mankind its only subject does; and they will easily appear as efficacious as the other, if we consider the strength of those causes before explicated, and reflect that they are effectively powerful to make multitudes daily debar themselves of those pleasures which are the causes of man kind’s propagation; and if we look into history for experience of what hath passed in the world since the propagation of Christianity, we shall find more particulars failing in propagating their kind, than their faith.” To which I answer,
First, That it may reasonably be expected there should be no contingencies in any particulars, where causes of actual will are supposed to be put in all; because (as he says truly) “a cause put actually causing cannot but produce its effect.” Suppose then constant causes laid in all mankind of an 340actual will to speak truth to the best of their knowledge, were it not reasonable to expect that there would be no such contingency to the world’s end, as that any man should tell a lie?” Nay, it were madness for any man to think any such contingency should be, supposing causes actually causing men always to speak truth.
Secondly, It is far from truth, “that the causes to preserve faith indeficiently entire, are as efficacious as those which are laid for the propagation of mankind.” And whereas he would prove the strength of those causes which are laid to preserve faith, because they are “effectively powerful to make multitudes daily debar themselves of those pleasures which are the causes of mankind’s propagation;” I hope nobody that hath read the innumerable complaints which occur in their own historians, and others of the best and most credible of their own writers, of more than one age, concerning the general viciousness and debauchery of their priests and monks, will be over-forward to believe, that all those who debar themselves of lawful marriage, do abstain from those unlawful pleasures.
§. 6. But nothing can be more impudent than what he adds—“That if we look into histories for experience of what is passed in the world since the first planting of Christianity, we shall find far more particulars failing in propagating their kind, than their faith.” Do any histories confirm it to have been the experience of the world, that the far greater part of the world did in any age give over propagating their kind?” But histories do confirm that the far greatest part of the Christian world did fall off to Arianism and Pelagianism; and consequently, as he supposeth, did desert and renounce tradition. Did ever whole nations and vast territories of the 341world either wholly, or for the greatest part of them, take up a humour against propagating mankind?” and yet both history, and the experience of the present age assure us, that a great part of Asia and Africa (where the most flourishing churches in the world once were) are fallen off from Christianity, and become either Mahometans or heathens. In Africa almost all those vast regions which Christianity had gained from heathenism, Mahometanism hath regained from Christianity. And all the north part of Africa lying along the Mediterranean (where Christianity flourished once as much as ever it did at Rome) is at this time utterly void of Christians, excepting a few towns in the hands of the European princes. And, not to mention all particular places, the large region of Nubia, which had (as is thought) from the apostles time, professed the Christian faith, hath within these one hundred and fifty years, for want of ministers (as Alvarez162162Hist. Æthiop. tells us) quitted Christianity, and is partly revolted to heathenism, partly fallen off to Mahometanism. So that it seems, that, notwithstanding the argument of hope and fear, the very teachers of tradition may fail in a largely-extended church. As for Asia, in the easterly parts of it, there is not now one Christian to four of what they were fifty years ago; and in the more southerly parts of it (where Christianity had taken the deepest root) the Christians are far inferior in number to the idolaters and Mahometans, and do daily decrease. What thinks Mr. S. of all this?” Have those Christian nations which are turned Mahometans and pagans failed in their faith or not?” If they have, 1 expect from him clear instances of more that have failed in propagating their kind.342
§. 7. But besides those who have totally apostatized from Christianity, hath not the whole Greek church, with the Jacobites and Nestorians, and all those other sects which agree with and depend up on these, and which, taken together, are manifoldly greater than the Roman church; I say, have not all these renounced tradition for several ages?” And here in Europe, hath not a great part of Poland, Hungary, both Germanics, France, and Switzer land?” have not the kingdoms of Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and a considerable part of Ire land, in Mr. S.’s opinion, deserted tradition?” If I should once see a whole nation fail because nobody would marry and contribute to the propagation of mankind; and should find this sullen humour to prevail in several nations, and to overspread vast parts of the world, I should then in good earnest think it possible for mankind to fail; unless I could shew it impossible for other nations to do that which I see some to have done, who were every whit as unlikely to have done it. So that, whatever cause he assigns of heresy,163163P. 67. as pride, ambition, lust, or any other vice or interest, if these can take place in whole nations, and make them renounce tradition, then, where is the efficacy of the causes to preserve faith indeficiently entire in any?” For the demonstration holds as strongly for all Christians as for any.
§. 8. Secondly, From these grounds it would follow that no Christian can live wickedly; because the end of faith being a good life, the arguments of hope and fear must in all reason be as powerful and efficacious causes of a good life, as of a true belief. And that his demonstration proves the one as much as the other, will be evident from his own reasoning; 343for he164164P. 62. argues in this manner: “Good is the proper object of the will; good proposed makes the will to desire that good, and consequently the known means to obtain it: now infinite goods and harms sufficiently proposed are of their own nature incomparably more powerful causes to carry the will than temporal ones. Since, then, when two causes are counterpoised, the lesser, when it comes to execution, is no cause as to the substance of that effect, it follows, that there is no cause to move the wills of a world of believers to be willing to do that which they judge would lose themselves and their posterity infinite goods, and bring them infinite harms, &c. in case a sufficient proposal or application be riot wanting,” which, he tells us,165165P. 65. is not wanting, because “Christianity urged to execution, gives its followers a new life and a new nature, than which a nearer application cannot be imagined.” Doth not this argument extend to the lives of Christians, as well as their belief?” So that we may as well infer from these grounds, that it is impossible that those who profess Christianity should live contrary to it, as that they should fail to deliver down the doctrine of Christ; because, whatever can be an inducement and temptation to any man to contradict this doctrine by his practice, may equally prevail upon him to falsify it. For why should men make any more scruple of damning themselves and their posterity by teaching them false doctrines, than by living wicked lives?” Which are equally pernicious with heretical doctrines, not only upon account of the bad influence which such examples of fathers and teachers are like to have upon their scholars, but likewise they are one of the strongest 344arguments in the world to persuade them, that their teachers do not themselves believe that religion which they teach; for if they did, they would live according to it. Why should any man think that those arguments of hope and fear which will not prevail upon the generality of Christians to make them live holy lives, should be so necessarily efficacious to make them so much concerned for the preserving of a right belief?” Nay, we have great reason to believe, that such persons will endeavour, as much as may be, to bend and accommodate their belief to their lives. And this is the true source of those innovations in faith for which we challenge the church of Rome; which any man may easily discern, who will but consider how all their new doctrines are fitted to a secular interest, and the gratifying of that inordinate appetite after riches and dominion which reigns in the court of Rome, and in the upper part of the clergy of that church.
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