Answer to a Jesuit. Chapter 2: Of Traditions
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To begin therefore with Traditions, which is your forlorn hope, that in the first place we are to set upon: this must I needs tell you before we begin, that you much mistake the matter, if you think that Traditions of all sorts promiscuously are struck at by our religion. We willingly acknowledge, that the word of God, which by some of the Apostles was set down in writing, was both by themselves and others of their fellow-labourers delivered by word of mouth; and that the Church in succeeding ages was bound not only to preserve those sacred writings committed to her trust, but also to deliver unto her children viva voce the form of wholesome words contained therein. Traditions, therefore, of this nature come not within the compass of our controversy: the question being betwixt us, de ipsa doctrina tradita, not de tradendi modo; “touching the substance of the doctrine delivered, not of the manner of delivering it.” Again, it must be remembered, that here we speak of the doctrine delivered as “the word of God,” that is, of points of religion revealed unto the Prophets and Apostles for the perpetual information of God’s people; not of rites and ceremonies and other ordinances which are left to the disposition of the Church, and consequently be not of divine, but of positive and human right. Traditions therefore of this kind likewise are not properly brought within the circuit of this question.
But that Traditions of men should be obtruded unto us for articles of religion, and admitted for parts of God’s worship; or that any Traditions should be accepted for parcels of God’s word, beside the holy Scriptures and such doctrines as are either expressly therein contained, or by sound inference may be deduced from thence; I think we have reason to gainsay, as long as for the first we have this direct sentence from God himself, Matthew 15: In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men; and for the second, the express warrant of the Apostle, 2 Timothy 3. testifying of the holy Scriptures, not only that they are able to make us wise unto salvation, (which they should not be able to do, if they did not contain all things necessary to salvation,) but also that by them the man of God (that is, the minister of God’s word, (1 Timothy 6:11) unto whom it appertaineth to declare all the counsel of God, (Acts 20:27) may be perfectly instructed to every good work: which could not be, if the Scriptures did not contain all the counsel of God which was fit for him to learn, or if there were any other word of God which he were bound to teach, that should not be contained within the limits of the book of God.
Now whether herein we disagree from the doctrine generally received by the Fathers, we refer ourselves to their own sayings. For ritual Traditions unwritten, and for doctrinal Traditions written indeed, but preserved also by the continual preaching of the Pastors of the Church successively, we find no man a more earnest advocate than Tertullian. Yet he having to deal with Hermogenes the heretic in a question concerning the faith, Whether all things at the beginning were made of nothing? Presseth him in this manner, with the argument ab auctoritate negative, for avoiding whereof the Papists are driven to fly for succour to their unwritten verities: “Whether all things were made of any subject matter, I have as yet read nowhere. Let those of Hermogenes’s shop shew that it is written. If it be not written, let them fear that woe which is allotted to such as add or take away.” (Tertullian, Against Hermogenes)
In the two Testaments, saith Origen, “every word that appertaineth to God may be required and discussed, and all knowledge of things out of them may be understood. But if any thing do remain which the holy Scripture doth not determine, no other third Scripture ought to be received to authorize any knowledge; but that which remaineth we must commit to the fire, that is, we must reserve it to God. For in this present world God would not have us to know all things.” (Origen, 5th Homily on Leviticus)
Hippolytus the Martyr, in his Homily against the Heresy of Noetus: “There is one God, whom we do not otherwise acknowledge, brethren, but out of the holy Scriptures. For as he that would profess the wisdom of this world cannot otherwise attain hereunto, unless he read the doctrine of the philosophers; so whosoever of us will exercise piety toward God, cannot learn this elsewhere but out of the holy Scriptures, Whatsoever therefore the holy Scriptures do preach, that let us know; and whatsoever they teach, that let us understand.” (Hippolytus, Against Noetus)
Athanasius, in his Oration against the Gentiles, toward the beginning: “The holy Scriptures, given by inspiration of God, are of themselves sufficient to the discovery of truth.” (Athanasius, Against the Heathen)
St Ambrose: “The things which we find not in the Scriptures, how can we use them?” (On the Duties of Clergy, Book 1 Chapter 23) And again: “I read that he is the first, I read that he is not the second; they who say he is the second, let them shew it by reading.”
“It is well,” saith St Hilary, “that thou art content with those things which be written.” (Hilary, On the Trinity, Book 3) And in another place he commendeth Constantius the Emperor for “desiring the faith to be ordered only according to those things that be written.” (Hilary, To the Emperor Constantine, Book 2)
St Basil: “Believe those things which are written; the things which are not written, seek not. (On the Faith) It is a manifest falling from the faith, and an argument of arrogancy, either to reject any point of those things that are written, or to bring in any of those things that are not written.” He teacheth further, (Basil, On Christian Ethics, 16) “‘that every word and action ought to be confirmed by the testimony of the holy Scripture, for confirmation of the faith of the good, and the confusion of the evil;” and “that it is the property of a faithful man to be fully persuaded of the truth of those things that are delivered in the holy Scripture, “and not to dare either to reject or to add any thing thereunto. For if whatsoever is not of faith he sin, as the Apostle saith, and faith is by hearing, and hearing by the word of God; then whatsoever is without the holy Scripture, being not of faith, must needs be sin.” Thus far St Basil.
In like manner Gregory Nyssen, St Basil’s brother, layeth this for a ground, “Which no man should contradict,” that “in that only the truth must be acknowledged, wherein the seal of the Scripture testimony is to be seen.” (Gregory of Nyssa On the Soul and the Resurrection) And accordingly in another book, attributed also unto him, we find this conclusion made: “Forasmuch as this is upholden with no testimony of the Scripture, as false we will reject it.” (Gregory of Nyssa, De Cognit. Dei, in Euthym. Panopl. Tit. 8)
Thus also St Jerome disputeth against Helvidius: “As we deny not those things that are written, so we refuse those things that are not written. That God was born of a Virgin we believe, because we read it: that Mary did marry after she was delivered, we believe not, because we read it not.” (Jerome, Against Helividius)
“In those things,” saith St Augustine, “which are laid down plainly in the Scriptures, all those things are found which appertain to faith and direction of life.” (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book 2 Chapter 9) And again: “Whatsoever ye hear” from the holy Scriptures, “let that savour well unto you; whatsoever is without them, refuse, lest you wander in a cloud.” (Augustine, Id. in lib. De Pastor. cap 11.) And in another place: “All those things which in times past our ancestors have mentioned to be done toward mankind, and have delivered unto us; all those things also which we see, and do deliver unto our posterity, so far as they appertain to the seeking and maintaining of true religion, the holy Scripture hath not passed in silence.”(Augustine, Epistle XLII)
“The holy Scripture,” saith St Cyril of Alexandria, “is sufficient to make them which are brought up in it wise and most approved, and furnished with most sufficient understanding.” (Cyril of Alexandria, Against Julian. Book 7) And again: “That which the holy Scripture hath not said, by what means should we receive and account it among those things that be true ?” (Cyril. Glaphyrorum, in Genesis, lib. 2.)
Lastly, in the writings of Theodoret we meet with these kind of speeches: “By the holy Scripture alone am I persuaded.” (Theodoret, Dialogues 1) “I am not so bold as to affirm any thing which the sacred Scripture passeth in silence.” (Theodoret, Dialogues 2) “It is an idle and a senseless thing to seek those things that are passed in silence.” (Theodoret, The Questions on the Octateuch, Exodus Question 26) “We ought not to seek those things which are passed in silence, but rest in the things that are written.” (Theodoret, The Questions on the Octateuch, Genesis Question 45)
By the verdict of these twelve men you may judge, what opinion was held in those ancient times of such Traditions as did cross either the verity or the perfection of the sacred Scripture, which are the Traditions we set ourselves against. Whereunto you may add, if you please, that remarkable sentence delivered by Eusebius Pamphili in the name of the 318 Fathers of the first general Council of Nice: “Believe the things that are written; the things that are not written, neither think upon nor enquire after.” (Gelas, Cyzicen. Act. Concil. Nicen. part, cap. 19.)
If now it be demanded, in what Pope’s days the contrary doctrine was brought in among Christians; I answer, that if St Peter were ever Pope, in his days it was that some seducers first laboured to bring in will-worship into the Church; against whom St Paul opposing himself (Colossians 2), counteth it a sufficient argument to condemn all such inventions, that they were the commandments and doctrines of men. Shortly after them started up other heretics, who taught, that “the truth could not be found out of the Scriptures by those to whom Tradition was unknown, forasmuch as it was not delivered by writing, but by word of mouth; for which cause St Paul also should say. We speak wisdom among them that he perfect.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 2)
The very same text do the Jesuits allege to prove the dignity of many mysteries to be such that they require silence; and that it is unmeet they should be opened in the Scriptures, which are read to the whole world, and therefore can only be learned by unwritten Traditions. Wherein they consider not, how they make so near an approach unto the confines of some of the ancientest heretics, that they may well shake hands together. For howsoever some of them were so mad as to say, that they were wiser than the Apostles themselves, and therefore made light account of the doctrine which they delivered unto the Church, either by writing or by word of mouth; yet all of them broke not forth into that open impiety: the same mystery of iniquity wrought in some of Antichrist’s forerunners then, which is discovered in his ministers now. “They confessed indeed,” as witnesseth Tertullian, “that the Apostles were ignorant of nothing, and differed not among themselves in their preaching; but they say, they revealed not all things unto all men: some things they delivered openly and to all, some things secretly and to a few, because that Paul useth this speech unto Timothy: O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust. And again: That good thing which was committed unto thee, keep.” (Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 25) Which very texts the Jesuits likewise bring in to prove, that there are some Traditions which are not contained in the Scripture.
In the days of St Jerome also this was wont to be the saying of heretics: “We are the sons of the wise men, which from the beginning have delivered the doctrine of the Apostles unto us.” (Jerome, lib. vii. in Esa. cap. 19.) But those things, saith that Father, “which they of themselves find out, and feign to have received as it were by Tradition from the Apostles, without the authority and testimonies of the Scriptures, the sword of God doth smite.” (Jerome, Id. in Agge. cap. 1.) St Chrysostom in like manner giveth this for a mark of Antichrist and of all spiritual thieves, that they come not in by the door of the Scriptures. For the Scripture, saith he, “like unto a sure door, doth bar an entrance unto heretics, safeguarding us in all things that we will, and not suffering us to be deceived.” (Chrysostom, Homily 59 on the Gospel of John, John 10:1) Whereupon he concludeth, that “whoso useth not the Scriptures, but Cometh in otherwise, that is, betaketh himself to another and an unlawful way, he is a thief.” (Ibid)
How this mystery of iniquity wrought when Antichrist came unto his full growth, and what experiments his followers gave of their thievish entry in this kind, was well observed by the author of the book De Unitate Ecclesiae, (thought by some to be Waltram, Bishop of Naumburg;) who, speaking of the Monks, that for the upholding of Pope Hildebrand’s faction brought in schisms and heresies into the Church, noteth this especially of them, that “despising the Tradition of God, they desired other doctrines, and brought in magisteries of human institution.” (Lib de Unitat. Eccles. Tom. 1. Script. Germanic. A M. Frehero edit. p233) Against whom he allegeth the authority of their own St Benedict, the father of the Monks in the West, writing thus: “The Abbot ought to teach, or ordain, or command nothing which is without the precept of the Lord; but his commandment or instruction should be spread as the leaven of divine righteousness in the minds of his disciples.” (Benedict, The Rule of Benedict) Whereunto also he might have added the testimony of the two famous Fathers of monastical discipline in the East; St Anthony, I mean, who taught his scholars that “the Scriptures were sufficient for doctrine;” (Athanasasius, The Life of Antony) and St Basil, who, unto the question, Whether it were expedient that novices should presently learn those things that are in the Scripture? returneth this answer: “It is fit and necessary that every one should learn out of the holy Scripture that which is for his use, both for his full settlement in godliness, and that he may not be accustomed unto human Traditions.” (Basil, Regul. Breviorib. 95)
Mark here the difference betwixt the Monks of St Basil and Pope Hildebrand’s breeding. The novices of the former were trained in the Scriptures, to the end “they might not be accustomed unto human Traditions:” those of the latter, to the clean contrary intent, were kept back from the study of the Scriptures, that “they might be accustomed unto human Traditions.” For this by the foresaid author is expressly noted of those Hildebrandine Monks, that they “^^ permitted not young men in their monasteries to study this saving knowledge, to the end that their rude wit might be nourished with the husks of devils, which are the customs of human Traditions, that, being accustomed to such filth, they might not taste how sweet the Lord was.” And even thus in the times following, from Monks to Friars, and from them to secular Priests and Prelates, as it were by Tradition from hand to hand, the like ungodly policy was continued of keeping the common people from the knowledge of the Scriptures; as for other reasons, so likewise that by this means they might be drawn to “human Traditions” Which was not only observed by Erasmus (Erasm. in Enarrat. i. Psalmi, edit, ann. 1515.), before ever Luther stirred against the Pope, but openly in a manner confessed afterwards by a bitter adversary of his, Petrus Sutor, a Carthusian Monk, who among other inconveniences, for which he would have the people debarred from reading the Scripture, allegeth this also for one: “Whereas many things are openly taught to be observed which are not to be expressly had in the holy Scriptures, will not the simple people, observing these things, quickly murmur and complain that so great burdens should be imposed upon them, whereby the liberty of the Gospel is so greatly impaired? Will not they also easily be drawn away from the observation of the ordinances of the Church, when they shall observe that they are not contained in the law of Christ?”
Having thus therefore discovered unto these Deuterotae (Hieronym. lib. ii. Comment, in Esai. cap. 3. et lib. ix. in Esai. cap. 29.)(for so St Jerome useth to style such Tradition-mongers) both their great-grandfathers and their more immediate progenitors, I pass now forward unto the second point.