Sunday, April 27, 2008

From St Vincent of Lérins's Commonitory, 5th Century

A General Rule for distinguishing the Truth of the Catholic Faith from the Falsehood of Heretical Pravity


But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense "Catholic," which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.


kkollwitz said...

Wow... this was written in the 5th century?

Scott Lyons said...

I know. It was written in A.D. 434 - three years after the Council of Ephesus.

kkollwitz said...

I forwarded this to my wife, a convert. SolaScrip is a common topic in our household & this is a remarkable excerpt with respect to that subject.

How did you find it?

BTW, your kids look like you.

Scott Lyons said...

I had read the final paragraph in the course of reading about the faith, but I had never seen it in its context. Anyway, I was looking for the Latin of the phrase "everywhere, always, and by all" and found the actual text of St Vincent's Commonitory, read it, and was surprised by the paragraph preceding the one I was looking for.

It reminds me of a similar and favorite quote of mine of Thomas Howard's (Elisabeth Elliott's brother, also a convert) where he seems to have distilled the first paragraph into the following quote: "All the heresiarchs believed in the inspiration of the Bible, but it took the Church to say, 'This is orthodox' or 'That is heterodox.' "

These are important ideas, specially persuasive as we see them so early on in the history of the Church, because so many of us who are converts (or reverts) are converts because of questions we initially had about authority and interpretation.