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The first answer to his second demonstration.
§. 1. THAT these principles wholly rely upon the truth of the grounds of his demonstration a priori. For if the doctrine of Christ was either imperfectly taught in any age, or mistaken by the learners, or any part of it forgotten, (as it seems 362the whole Greek church have forgotten that fundamental point of the procession of the Holy Ghost, as the Roman church accounts it,) or if the arguments of hope and fear be not necessary causes of actual will to adhere to tradition, then there may have been changes and innovations in any age, and yet men may pretend to have followed tradition. But I have shewn, that ignorance and negligence, and mistake, and pride, and lust, and ambition, and any other vice or interest, may hinder those causes from being effectual to preserve tradition entire and uncorrupted. And when they do so, it is not to be expected that those persons who innovate and change the doctrine, should acknowledge that their new doctrines are contrary to the doctrine of Christ, but that they should at first advance them as pious, and after they have prevailed and gained general entertainment, then impudently affirm that they were the very doctrines which Christ delivered; which they may very securely do, when they have it in their power to burn all that shall deny it.
§. 2. I will give a clear instance of the possibility of this, in the doctrine of transubstantiation, by shewing how this might easily come in, in the ninth or tenth age after Christ. We will suppose then that, about this time, when universal ignorance, and the genuine daughter of it, (call her devotion or superstition) had overspread the world, and the generality of people were strongly inclined to believe strange things; and even the greatest contradictions were recommended to them under the notion of mysteries, being told by their priests and guides, that the more contradictious any thing is to reason, the greater merit there is in believing it: I say, let us suppose, that in this state of things one or more 363of the most eminent then in the church, either out of design, or superstitious ignorance and mistake of the sense of our Saviour’s words used in the consecration of the sacrament, should advance this new doctrine, that the words of consecration, “This is my body,” are not to be understood by any kind of trope (as the like forms in Scripture are, as “I am the vine I am the door,” which are plain tropes), but, being used about this great mystery of the sacrament, ought in all reason to be supposed to contain in them some notable mystery; which they will do, if they be understood of a real change of the substance of bread and wine, made by virtue of these words in the real body and blood of our Saviour; and in all this, I suppose nothing but what is so far from being impossible, that it is too usual for men, either out of ignorance or interest, to advance new opinions in religion. And such a doctrine as this was very likely to be advanced by the ambitious clergy of that time, as a probable means to draw in the people to a greater veneration of them: which advantage Mr. Rushworth186186Dial. 1. sect. 4. seems to be very sensible of, when he. tells us, that the power of the priest in this particular is “such a privilege, as, if all the learned clerks that ever lived since the beginning of the world should have studied to raise, advance, and magnify, some one state of men to the highest pitch of reverence and eminency, they could never (without special light from heaven) have thought of any thing comparable to this.” I am of his mind, that it was a very notable device; but, 1 am apt to think, invented “without any special light from heaven.” Nor was such a doctrine less likely to take and prevail among the people in an age prodigiously ignorant, 364and strongly inclined to superstition, and thereby well prepared to receive the grossest absurdities under the notion of mysteries; especially if they were such as might seem to conciliate a great honour and reverence to the sacrament. Now supposing such a doctrine as this, so fitted to the humour and temper of the age, to be once asserted, either by chance or out of design, it would take like wildfire; especially if, by some one or more who bore sway in the church, it were but recommended with convenient gravity and solemnity. And although Mr. Rushworth says,187187Dial. 3. sect. 7. it is “impossible that the authority or one man” should sway so much in the world, because (says he) “surely the devil himself would rather help the church, than permit so little pride among men;” yet I am not so thoroughly satisfied with this cunning reason: for though he delivers it confidently, and with a surely, yet I make some doubt whether the devil would be so forward to help the church; nay, on the contrary, I am inclined to think that he would rather choose to connive at this humble and obsequious temper in men, in order to the overthrow of religion, than cross a design so dear to him by unseasonable temptations to pride: so that, notwithstanding Mr. Rushworth’s reason, it seems very likely that such a doctrine, in such an age, might easily be propagated by the influence and authority of one or a few great persons in the church. For nothing can be more suitable to the easy and passive temper of superstitious ignorance, than to entertain such a doctrine with all imaginable greediness, and to maintain it with a proportionable zeal. And if there be any wiser than the rest, who make objections against it, as if this doctrine 365were new and full of contradictions, they may easily be borne down by the stream, and by the eminency, and authority, and pretended sanctity, of those who are the heads of this innovation. And when this doctrine is generally swallowed, and all that oppose it are looked upon and punished as heretics, then it is seasonable to maintain that this doctrine was the doctrine of forefathers; to which end it will be sufficient to those who are willing to have it true, to bend two or three sayings of the ancients to that purpose. And as for the contradictions contained in this doctrine, it was but telling the people then (as they do in effect now) that contradictions ought to be no scruple in the way of faith; that the more impossible any thing is, it is the fitter to be believed; that it is not praiseworthy to believe plain possibilities, but this is the gallantry and heroical power of faith, this is the way to oblige God Almighty for ever to us, to believe flat and downright contradictions: for God requires at the people’s hands (as Mr. Rushworth188188Dial. 1. sect. 4. tells us) “a credulity of things above and beyond nature, nay, beyond all the fables, be it spoken with respect, that ever man invented.” After this doctrine hath proceeded thus far, and by the most inhuman severities and cruelties suppressed dissenters, or in a good measure rooted them out; then, if they please, even this new word transubstantiation may pretend also to antiquity, and in time be confidently vouched for a word used by Christians in all ages, and transmitted down to them by those from whom they received the doctrine of the sacrament as a term of art appendant to it. And when a superstitious church and de signing governors have once gained this post, and 366by means of this enormous article of transubstantiation have sufficiently debauched the minds of men, and made a breach in their understandings wide enough for the entertaining of any error, though ever so gross and senseless; then innovations come in amain, and by shoals; and the more absurd and unreasonable any thing is, it is for that very reason the more proper matter for an article of faith. And if any of these innovations be objected against, as contrary to former belief and practice, it is but putting forth a lusty act of faith, and believing another contradiction, viz. that though they be contrary, yet they are the same.
§. 3. And there is nothing in all this but what is agreeable both to history and experience. For that the ninth and tenth ages, and those which followed them till the Reformation, were thus prodigiously ignorant and superstitious, is confirmed by the unanimous consent of all historians; and even by those writers, that have been the greatest pillars of their own religion. And experience tells us, that in what age soever there are a great company of superstitious people, there will never be wanting a few crafty fellows to make use of this easy and pliable humour to their own ends. Now that this was the state of those ages of the church, will be evident to any from these testimonies. Platina189189in vit. Romani, Papae 117. A. C. 900. writes of Pope Romanus, that he nulled the acts of his predecessor Stephanus. “For (says he) these popes minded nothing else but how they might extinguish both the name and dignity of their predecessors.” And if so, who can doubt, but that these popes, who made it their business to destroy the very memory of their ancestors, would be very little careful to preserve the doctrine 367of forefathers?” But what the care of those times was in this particular, may be conjectured from what Onuphrius190190In Platin. says by way of confutation of that passage in Platina, concerning Pope Joan’s reading publicly at Rome, at her first coming thither. “This (says he) is utterly false, for there was nothing that they were less solicitous about in those times, than to furnish the city with any public teachers.” And the time which Onuphrius speaks of, was much about the beginning of the tenth century. Phil. Burgomensis191191An. 906. says, “It happened in that age, through the slothfulness of men, that there was a general decay of virtue both in the head and members.” Again,192192An. 908. “These times, through the ambition and cruel tyranny of the popes, were extremely unhappy—For the popes, setting aside the fear of God and his worship, fell into such enmities among themselves as cruel tyrants exercise towards one another.” Sabellicus193193Ennead. 9. l. i1. Ann. 900. says, “It is wonderful to observe what a strange forgetfulness of all arts did about this time seize upon men; insomuch, that neither the popes, nor other princes, seemed to have any sense or apprehension of any thing that might be useful to human life. There were no wholesome laws, no reparations of churches, no pursuit of liberal arts, but a kind of stupidity, and madness, and forgetfulness of manners, had possessed the minds of men.” And a little after, “I cannot (says he) but much wonder from whence these tragical examples of popes should spring; and how their minds should come to be so devoid of all piety, as neither to regard the person which they sustained, nor the place they 368were in.” Sigomus,194194De Regn. Ital. l. 6. speaking of these times, about the beginning of the tenth century, calls them “the foulest and blackest, both in respect of the wickedness of princes, and the madness of the people, that are to be found in all antiquity.” Genebrard,195195Chron 1. 4. speaking of the same time, “This (says he) is called the unhappy age; being destitute of men eminent for wit and learning, and also of famous princes and popes. In this time there was scarcely anything done worthy to be remembered by posterity.” And he adds afterwards, “But chiefly unhappy in this one thing, that for almost a hundred and fifty years together, about fifty popes did utterly degenerate from the virtue of their ancestors.” He should have added further—but even to a miracle happy in another respect, that during this long and total degeneracy from the piety and virtue of their ancestors, they did not in the least swerve from them in matters of faith and doctrine: a thing incredible, were there not demonstration for it. Werner196196Fascic. Tempor. gives this character of that time: “About the year of our Lord one thousand there began an effeminate time, in which the Christian faith began to degenerate exceedingly, and to decline from its ancient vigour; insomuch, that, in many countries of Christendom, neither sacraments nor ecclesiastical rites were observed —And people were given to soothsaying and witchcraft, and the priest was like the people.” It seems by this testimony, that tradition did falter a little in that age, else the Christian faith could not possibly have degenerated and declined so very much: and (which threatens Mr. S’s demonstration most of all) that the practical tradition of sacraments 369and other ecclesiastical observances, did fail in many Christian countries. Gerbert,197197Ep. 40. who lived in that time, gives this short character of the Roman church, in an epistle of his to Stephen, deacon of that church: “The world stands amazed at the manners of Rome.” But most full is the complaint of a great198198Bell. Sacr. l. 1. c. 8. prelate of the church concerning those times: “In the west (says he) and almost all the world over (especially among those who were called the faithful) faith failed, and there was no fear of God among them: (it seems the argument of fear had lost its force:”) justice was perished from among men, and violence prevailing against equity governed the nations. Fraud, deceit, and the arts of cozenage, were grown universal, All kind of virtue gave way as an useless thing, and wickedness supplied its place. The world seemed to be declining apace towards its evening, and the second coming of the Son of man to draw near: for love was grown cold, and faith was not found upon earth. All things were in confusion, and the world looked as if it would return to its old chaos.—All sorts of fornication were committed with the same freedom as if they had been lawful actions; for men neither blushed at them, nor were punished for them—Nor did the clergy live better than the people—For the bishops were grown negligent of the duty of their place, &c. In a word, men ran themselves headlong into all vice, and all flesh had corrupted its way.” And further, to shew the great neglect of priests and bishops in the work of teaching and instruction, (which is so necessary to the preserving of tradition inviolable) I will add the testimony of one199199Elfric. Ser. ad Sacerdot. who 370lived in those times; who tells us, “That in those days the priests and bishops, who ought to have been the pillars of the church, were so negligent, that they did not mind the Divine Scriptures; nor take any care to teach and instruct scholars that might succeed them, as we read holy men had used to do, who left many scholars perfectly instructed to be their successors.” If they had only neglected the Scriptures, all might have been well enough; but it seems they took no care to instruct people in the way of oral tradition, nor to furnish the church with a new generation of able teachers, who might deliver down from hand to hand the sense and faith of forefathers. This last testimony the late learned Lord Primate of Ireland, Bishop Usher, (in his book De Christian. Eccles. Success. &c.200200C. 2. and 3. where several of the testimonies I have produced, with many more to the same purpose, may be seen) cites out of a MS. in Benet College library, in Cambridge; concerning the authority of which MS. there need be no dispute between Mr. S. and me; because the whole force and effect of this testimony are sufficiently contained in those citations which I have brought out of public and unquestionable books.
§. 4. All these testimonies, which I have produced, are, in general, and for the substance of them, confirmed by two of the greatest props of the Romish church, Bellarmine and Baronius. Bellarmine201201De rom. Pontif. l. 4. c. 12.. says of this tenth age, “That there was never any either more unlearned or more unhappy.” Baronius202202Annal. tom. 10. an. 900. speaks more particularly: “What was then the face of the Roman church! How deformed! When whores, no less powerful than vile, bore the chief 371sway at Rome; and, at their pleasure, changed sees, appointed bishops, and (which is horrible to mention) did thrust into St. Peter’s see their own gallants, false popes, who would not have been mentioned in the catalogue of the Roman popes, but only for the more distinct recording of so long a succession of times!” And a little after, “Christ was then, it seems, in a very deep sleep—And, which was worse, when the Lord was thus asleep, there were no disciples to awaken him, being themselves all fast asleep. What kind of cardinals, presbyters, and deacons, can we think were chosen by these monsters, when nothing is so natural as for every one to propagate his own likeness?” It is very much that these lewd women, and their favourite popes, cardinals, and bishops, who then swayed the church, should, when they were so careless of their own souls, be so tender of the salvation of posterity; and when they administered all other affairs of the church so extravagantly, should be so careful of the main chance, as to transmit the Christian doctrine entire and uncorrupted to succeeding ages! Yet Mr. S. hath demonstrated this a posteriori, which seems so very strange to a man that considers things a priori.
§. 5. But, it may be, this dismal state of the Roman church lasted but a little while; and she did in the same age, before tradition could be interrupted, recover herself out of this degenerate condition. I will, therefore, inquire a little into the state of succeeding times. And I find, in the thirteenth century, St. Bernard203203In Convers. Sancti Pauli, serm. 1. complaining, that the degeneracy of the priests was, in his days, greater than ever; “We cannot (says he) now say, As the people so is 372the priest; for the people are not so bad as their priests.” In the fifteenth century, Nic. de Clemangiis, who lived in that time, wrote a book upon this argument, “Of the corrupt state of the church;” by which we may make some judgment, whether in that age it was, as Mr. S. says, impossible but that the Christian doctrine should be entirely preserved, and faithfully and diligently taught. He says,204204C. 3. there was an universal degeneracy in the church “from the very head of it, to its lowest members.” In the same chapter he complains, “Who is there that preaches the gospel to the people?” who shews them the way to salvation, either by word or action?” It seems there was a great failure both of oral and practical tradition. Again,205205C. 5. speaking of the pope’s taking to himself the collation of all vacant bishoprics and dignities, he says, one might think the pope did this, “that the church might be provided of worthier governors, both in respect of their learning and their lives, did not the thing itself declare the contrary; and that ignorant and useless persons (provided they had money) were by simony advanced to the highest degrees in the church.” And206206C. 6. speaking what a vast number of candidates there was usually at Rome from all parts, waiting for benefices and dignities, he tells us, that many of these “did not come from their studies, or from schools of learning, to govern parishes; but from the plough, and from the meanest professions. And that they understood Latin and Arabic much at the same rate; and many of them could not read at all. But it may be (says he) their manners were such as might be some excuse for their ignorance. No; their learning 373but little, their virtue was less; for being brought up in idleness, they followed nothing but debauchery and sports, &c. Hence it comes to pass, that in all places there are so many wicked, and wretched, and ignorant priests.—Hence it is that priests are so contemned by the common people.—Formerly the priesthood was highly honoured by the people, and nothing was more venerable than that order of men; but now nothing is more vile and despicable.—207207C. 9.I make no doubt but that there are now more thieves and robbers, than true pastors in the church.—208208C. 11.Why should any man now flatter himself with hopes of preferment, because of his virtue or learning?” Men do not now, as formerly, rise in the church by such arts.—209209C. 15.Which of those that are now-a-days advanced to the pontifical dignity, hath so much as perfunctorily read, or heard, or learnt the Scriptures; yea, or ever touched any more than the cover of the Bible?” Again, 210210C. 14.speaking of the prodigious covetousness of the governors of the church, and the gross neglect of their flocks, “They would (says he) much more contentedly bear the loss of ten thousand souls, than of ten or twelve shillings. But why do I say, more contentedly?” when without the least trouble or disturbance to themselves, they can bear the loss of souls; a thing so far from their care, that it never entered into their thoughts.” Had the heretics of those days but had wit enough, and a little money, they might, it seems, for a small sum, have hired the governors of the church to have renounced tradition, or to have ceased to propagate it; though they had known that in so doing they should have damned all their posterity. He 374goes on and tells us, “That if there were, perhaps, any one who did not take these courses, the rest would all snarl at him, call him fool, and say he was unfit to be a priest.—So that the study of the Scriptures, together with the professors of it, was turned into laughter and scorn by all; but (which is prodigious) especially by the popes, who prefer their own tradition many degrees before the commands of God.” I desire Mr. S. to take notice in what kind of times tradition was set up against Scripture. Again,211211C. 16. speaking of the choice of persons to be priests, he tells us, “That there was no inquiry made into their lives, no question about their manners. As for their learning, (says he) what need I speak of that?” when we see the priests, almost universally, have much ado to read, though but in a hesitating and spelling fashion, drawing out one syllable after another, without understanding either the sense of what they read, or the words.” I am now reconciled to oral tradition, and convinced that there was great need of it in those ages, in which scarcely any of the priests could either write or read. I omit the particulars of what he says212212C. 20, 21, 23. concerning the “common drunkenness and incontinency of priests, who (because they made conscience of marriage) kept whores in their houses;” concerning the dissolute lives of monks; and concerning nunneries, which, instead of being the sanctuaries of God, “were the abominable stews of Venus, and the receptacle of lascivious young men; insomuch (says he) that, at this day, it is the same thing to put a virgin into a nunnery, and to make her a common strumpet.” And to shew that he does not speak these things of a few, but with relation to the 375general corruption of that age, he adds, 213213 C. 25.”That wickedness did so abound in all orders of men, that scarce one among a thousand was to be found who did truly live up to his profession: and if there was any one that did not follow these lewd courses, he became ridiculous to others, and was branded either as an insolent singular mad man, or a hypocrite.” I will conclude this long testimony with the character which he gives214214C. 27. of one of the popes of his time, Clement by name: viz. “That he did chiefly apply himself to gratify and oblige all the parasites and buffoons that had any interest in the several courts of princes: and to this end, did confer upon these, and upon handsome young boys, (which he much delighted in) almost all the vacant bishoprics, and most of the other church dignities.” It is well that oral tradition hath the security of infallibility, otherwise it had in all probability been lost among this lewd sort of people, which yet they gravely call the “holy Roman catholic church.”
§. 6. To this effect I might have produced testimonies concerning every age from the ninth to the sixteenth; but Mr. Cressy hath saved me that labour, who acknowledges, 215215 Exomolog. 68.that “these worst times of the church, when ignorance, worldliness, pride, tyranny, &c. reigned with so much scope; when the popes (so wicked, so abominable in their lives) enjoyed so unlimited a power, even over secular princes themselves, and much more over the clergy:”” I say, he acknowledges that these worst times continued during the space of about six ages before Luther. A competent time, one would think, for tradition to have miscarried in, were it not, as Mr. S. says, “indefectible.” Mr. 376Cressy indeed tells us, 216216 Exomolog. c. 68.that this was to him “an irrefragable testimony of a strange watchfulness of Divine Providence over the church, to preserve it from the gates of hell (that is, established and dangerous errors) during these worst times.” And very likely it is that this might appear so to such a catholic, “whose judgment, (he tells us,) it is to renounce his own judgment:”” but it will never appear irrefragable to any man that hath his judgment about him, unless Mr. Cressy can prove, that by that phrase, viz. the gates of hell, the Scripture does not mean gross wickedness of life, as well as dangerous errors in opinion; and likewise that a general viciousness and debauchery of manners are not as pernicious to Christianity, and as destructive to the end of it, as established errors in doctrine. And if so, that the providence of God is not equally concerned to preserve the church from things equally pernicious. When he hath proved these three things, then this declamatory discourse of his may signify something, but not before.
§. 7. Now if this be a true representation of the state of the Roman church in those ages, was not this a very fit time for the devil to play his pranks in?” Will any man that reads these testimonies, think it impossible that the doctrine of Christ should have been depraved in this age; or that the most senseless and absurd tenets might then be brought in under the notion of Christian doctrines: when scarcely any one knew what the doctrine of Christ was: when a general ignorance of letters, and almost an universal stupidity and madness had seized upon the minds of men: when there was a horrid depravation of manners, and a general failure of virtue and piety both in the head and members of the church: 377when the lives of the popes were tragically wicked, and no footsteps of piety appeared in them: when, for about a hundred and fifty years together in a continued succession of fifty popes, there was scarce one pious and virtuous man (or woman) sat in that chair: when the whores governed Rome, and put out and put in bishops at their pleasure; and made their own gallants popes, who would be sure to make a college of cardinals of such monsters as themselves: when pretty boys, and parasites, and buffoons, led the head of the church by the nose, and were gratified with the best bishoprics and dignities in the church: when there was a general decay of knowledge, and defection of the Christian faith; when in many countries neither sacraments nor other ecclesiastical rites were observed: when violence and fraud, and all the arts of deceit and cozenage, and blacker arts than these, were the common study and practice: when intemperance, and all kind of lewdness and debauchery, reigned in all sorts and orders of men: when the generality of bishops and priests (who, according to Mr. Rushworth, 217217dial. 3. sect. 3. canonly teach the traditionary doctrine) were ignorant in the Scriptures and in every thing else (very few of them being able so much as to read tolerably) and did neglect to teach the people, and to breed up any in knowledge to succeed them in their office; and in the lewdness of their lives, did surpass the vilest of the people:”—was not such an age a fit season to plant the doctrine of transubstantiation in?” Or if any thing more monstrous than that can be imagined, it might then have taken place; for what weeds would not have grown in so rank a soil?” Doth Mr. S. think it impossible, that those that were born in the church then should be ignorant of the doctrine 378of Christ, when scarce any one would take the pains to teach it them; or that it could then have been altered, when so few understood and fewer practised it: when prodigious impiety and wickedness did overspread the church from the pope down to the meanest of the laity, can any one believe that men generally made conscience to instruct their children in the true faith of Christ?” Was it impossible there should be any neglect of this duty, when all others failed?” That there should be any mistake about the doctrine of Christ, when there was so much ignorance: unless he be of Mr. Rushworth’s218218Dial. 3. sect. 7. mind, who reckons ignorance among the parents of religion?” Where were then the arguments of hope and fear?” Were they strongly applied, or were they not?” Were they causes of actual will in Christians, to believe well when they lived so ill?” Or is Christianity only fitted to form men’s minds to a right belief, but of no efficacy to govern their lives?” Hath Christ taken care to keep his church from error, but not from vice?” As the great Cardinal Perron219219Reply to King James, l. 4. c. 6. (stooping below his own wit and reason to serve a bad cause) tells us, that “the church sings, and will sing to the end of the world, I am black, but I am fair; that is to say, I am black in manners, but fair in doctrine: “as if the meaning of the prophecies and promises of the Scripture made to the church were this—that by the extraordinary care of God’s providence, and peculiar assistance of his Holy Spirit, she should be wicked, but orthodox to the end of the world. Where were then the vigorous causes of imprinting Christ’s doctrine, and continuing it more particularly at Rome than any where else?” and of securing that see and its supreme pastor in the faith and practice 379of the Christian doctrine, above any other see or pastor whatsoever?” who is so little versed in history, as not to understand the dismal state of religion in the Romish church in those times?” who does not know what advantages the bishops of Rome and their servile clergy made of the ignorance and superstition of those and the succeeding ages, and by what arts and steps they raised themselves to that power which they held in the church for along while after?” when they could tread upon the necks of princes, and make a great king walk barefoot, and yield himself to be scourged by a company of petulant monks: when they could send any man upon an errand to visit the holy sepulchre, or the shrine of such a saint, and command five or six kings with great armies upon a needless expedition into the Holy Land, that so during their absence they might play their own game the better: when they could mint miracles, and impose upon the belief of the people (without the authority of any ancient books) absurd and counterfeit tales of ancient saints and martyrs, as delivered down to them by tradition: and could bring that foppish book the Legend almost into equal authority and veneration with the Bible: and persuade the easy people that St. Denys carried his own head in his hand, after it was cut off, two miles, and kissed it when he laid it down?” Any one that shall but reflect upon the monstrous practices of the Roman bishops and clergy in these ages, the strange feats they played, and what absurdities they imposed upon the superstitious credulity of princes and people, may readily imagine, not only the possibility, but the easiness of innovating new doctrines as they pleased, under the specious pretences of antiquity, and constant, uninterrupted tradition.380
§. 8. And this kind of discourse concerning the possibility of errors coming into the church, is not, as Mr. White ridiculously compares it,220220Apology for Tradition, p. 49. as if an orator should go about to persuade people, that George, by the help of a long staff and a nimble cast of his body, and such-like advantages, might leap over Paul’s steeple; “never considering all the while the disproportion of all these advantages to the height of the steeple: so (saith he) he that discourseth at large how errors use to slide into man’s life, without comparing the power of the causes of error to the strength of resisting, which consists in this principle, Nothing is to be admitted but what descends by tradition, &c. says no more towards proving an error’s overrunning the church, than the orator for George’s leaping over the steeple.” How vain is this! when it appears from this instance that I have given of the state of the Roman church in the ninth and tenth centuries, and afterwards, that the causes of error were infinitely stronger than the power of resistance! The great causes of error, are ignorance and vice; where ignorance reigns there is no power; where vice, no will to resist it. And how great the ignorance and viciousness of all orders of men in the Roman church was, is too apparent from the testimonies I have brought. Where was the strength of resisting error, when for a hundred and fifty years together the popes were the vilest of men, bishops and priests over whelmed with ignorance, abandoned to all manner of vice, and most supinely negligent in instructing the people?” In such a degenerate state of a church, what strength is there in this principle, “Nothing is to be admitted but what descends by tradition?” when those who ought to teach men what that doctrine is which 381was derived to them by tradition, are generally care less of their duty, and ignorant themselves what that doctrine is?” when they addict themselves wholly to the satisfying their ambition, and other lusts, and carrying on designs of gain, and getting dominion over the people?” What can hinder men so disposed from corrupting the doctrine of Christ, and suiting it to their own lusts and interests?” And what shall hinder the people from embracing those corruptions; when by the negligence of their pastors to instruct them, and not only so, but also by their being deprived of the Scriptures in a known tongue, they are become utterly incapable of knowing what the true doctrine of Christ is?” So that in an age of such profound ignorance and vice, and general neglect of instruction, it is so far from being impossible for errors to overrun a church, that the contrary is morally impossible; and George’s long staff, and advantageous cast of his body, are more powerful causes to enable him to leap over Paul’s steeple, than this principle, That nothing is to be admitted but what descends by tradition, is to keep errors out of a church in an ignorant and vicious age; when few or none are either able or willing to instruct men in the truth. For, suppose this always to have been the principle of Christians, viz. That nothing is to be admitted as the doctrine of Christ, but what is descended to them by tradition; how shall this principle secure the church from heresy, any more than this, viz. That nothing but truth is to be assented to, doth secure men from error?” Or more than this, viz. That no man is to do any thing but what is wise and virtuous, does secure the generality of mankind from folly and vice?”382
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