Lecture 11. On Scripture as the Record of Faith

{266} IT will perhaps be questioned, whether the foregoing view of Catholic Tradition and the Fundamentals of the Church, is consistent with the supremacy of Holy Scripture in questions of faith. That it is not consistent with present popular notions on the subject I am quite aware; but it may be that those notions are wrong, and that the foregoing view, which is taken from our great divines, is right. If it could be proved contrary to anything they have elsewhere maintained, this would be to accuse them of inconsistency; which I leave to our enemies to do. However, I will not content myself with a mere appeal to authority, but will argue the question on grounds of reason. In this, then, and the two following Lectures, I propose to discuss the question of what is sometimes called "the Rule of Faith;" and to show, that nothing that has gone before is inconsistent with the reverence, thankfulness, and submission with which we should receive Scripture.


The sixth Article speaks as follows: "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it {267} should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation."

Now, this statement is very plain and clear except in one point, viz. who is to be the judge what is and what is not contained in Scripture. Our Church is silent on this point,—very emphatically so. This is worth observing; in truth, she does not admit, strictly speaking, of any judge at all, in the sense in which Roman Catholics and Protestants contend for one; and in this point, as in others, holds a middle course between extreme theories. The Roman Church, as we all know, maintains the existence of a Judge of controversies, nay, and an infallible one, that is, the Church Catholic herself. It considers, that the Pope, in General Council, can infallibly decide on the meaning of Scripture, as well as infallibly discriminate between Apostolic and spurious Traditions. Again, the multitude of Protestants also maintain the existence of a judge of Scripture doctrine, but not one and the same to all, but a different one to each individual. They consider every man his own judge; they hold that every man may or must read Scripture for himself and judge about its meaning and make up his mind for himself; nay, is, as regards himself, and practically, an infallible judge of its meaning;—infallible, certainly, for were the whole new creation against him, Bishops, Doctors, Martyrs, Saints, the Holy Church Universal, the very companions of the Apostles, the unanimous suffrage of the most distinct times and places, and the most gifted and holiest men, yet according to the popular doctrine, though he was aware of this, he ought ultimately to rest in his own interpretations of Scripture, and to follow his private Judgment, however sorry he might be to differ from such authorities.

Thus both the Protestant and the Roman Catholic hold the existence of an authoritative judge of the sense of {268} Scripture, each makes itself judge in its own cause, and places the ultimate appeal in its own decision; whereas our Article preserves a significant silence on the subject; which agrees with the mode of treating it adopted in other passages of our formularies. For, in truth, we neither hold that the Catholic Church is an infallible judge of Scripture, nor that each individual may judge for himself; but that the Church has authority, and that individuals have liberty to judge for themselves outside the range of that authority. This is no matter of words, but a very clear and practically important distinction, as will soon appear.


The Church is not a judge of the sense of Scripture in the common sense of the word, but a witness. If, indeed the word judge be taken to mean what it means in the Courts of Law, one vested with authority to declare the received appointments and usages of the realms, and with power to enforce them, then the Church is a judge,—but not of Scripture, but of Tradition [Note 1]. On the contrary, both Protestant sectaries and Catholics of Rome consider their supposed judge to be a judge not merely of past facts, of precedents, custom, belief, and the like, but to have a direct power over Scripture, to contemplate questions of what is true and false in opinion, to have a special gift by divine illumination, a gift guaranteed by promise, of discerning the Scripture sense without perceptible human Media, to act under a guidance, and as if inspired, even though not really so [Note 2]. Whether any such gift was once destined {269} for mankind or not, it avails not to inquire; we consider it is not given in fact, and both Roman Catholics and Protestants hold that it is given. We, on the other hand, consider the Church as a witness, a keeper and witness of Catholic Tradition, and in this sense invested with authority, just as in political matters, an ambassador, possessed of instructions from his government, would speak with authority. But, except in such sense as attaches to an ambassador, the Church, in our view of her office, is not a judge.

She bears witness to a fact, that such and such a doctrine, or such a sense of Scripture, has ever been received and came from the Apostles; the proof of which lies in evidence of a plain and public nature, first in her own unanimity throughout her various branches, next in the writings of the Ancient Fathers; and she acts upon this evidence as the executive does in civil matters, and is responsible for it; but she does not undertake of herself to determine the sense of Scripture, she has no immediate power over it, she but alleges and submits to that doctrine which is ancient and Catholic. The Protestant, indeed, and the Romanist may also use Antiquity; but it is as a mere material by which the supreme judge, the spiritual mind, whether collective or individual, forms its decisions,—as pleadings in its court, itself being above them, and having an inherent right of disposing of them. We, on the contrary, consider Antiquity and Catholicity to be the real guides, and the Church their organ [Note 3]. For instance, in the 20th Article, a distinction is made between {270} rites and doctrines, and it is affirmed the Church has power over the one, but not over the other; "the Church hath power to decree rites and ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith." Again, in the Canon of 1571, the rule of deciding these controversies is given: "Preachers shall be careful not to preach aught to be religiously held and believed by the people, except what is agreeable to the doctrine of the Old or New Testament, and collected from that very doctrine by the Catholic Fathers and ancient Bishops." [Note 4]

The Act of Queen Elizabeth, though proceeding from the laity and since repealed, expresses the opinion of the age which imposed the Articles, and it speaks to the same purport as this Canon. It determines that "such matter and cause" only shall be adjudged to be heresy, as heretofore has been adjudged to be so, "by authority of the Canonical Scriptures, or by some of the first four General Councils, or by any other General Council wherein the same was declared heresy by the express and plain words of the said Canonical Scriptures."

The present Church, then, in our view of her office, is not so much a judge of Scripture as a witness of Catholic Truth delivered to her in the first ages, whether by Councils, or by Fathers, or in whatever other way.


And if she does not claim for herself any gift of interpretation, {271} in the high points in question, much less does she allow individuals to pretend to it. Explicit as our Articles are in asserting that the doctrines of faith are contained and must be pointed out in Scripture, yet they give no hint that private persons may presume to search Scripture, independently of external help when they can obtain it, and to determine for themselves what is saving. The Church has a prior claim to do so, but even the Church asserts it not, but hands over the office to Catholic Antiquity [Note 5]. What our Articles say of Holy Scripture as the document of proof, has exclusive reference to the mode of teaching. It is not said that individuals are to infer the faith, but that the Church is to prove it from Scripture; not that individuals are to learn it for themselves, but that they are to be taught it. The Church is bound over to test and verify her doctrine by Scripture throughout her course of instruction. She must take care to show her children that she keeps Scripture in mind, and is ruling, guiding, steadying herself by it. In Sermons and Lectures, in catechizings and controversy, she must ever appeal to Scripture, draw her arguments from Scripture, explore and develope Scripture, imitate Scripture, build up her form of doctrine on Scripture rudiments; and though individuals have no warrant to set themselves against her particular use of Scripture, yet her obligation to use it is surely a great practical limitation of her power. The sole question, I say, in the Articles is how the Church is to teach. Thus, in the sixth it is said, that nothing but what is contained in Scripture, or may be proved by it, is to be "required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the faith." And the {272} 20th still more clearly: "It is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation." It does not say what individuals may do, but what the Church may not do. In like manner, the Canon of 1571 is concerning the duty of preachers; the question whether individuals may exercise a right of Private Judgment on the text of Scripture in matters of faith is not even contemplated.


Such then are the respective places to be assigned to the Church of this day and to her members in regard to the interpretation of Scripture. Neither individual, nor Bishop, nor Convocation, nor Council, may venture to decline the Catholic interpretation of its sacred mysteries. We have as little warrant for rejecting Ancient Consent as for rejecting Scripture itself [Note 6]; our Private Judgment is as much and as little infringed by the yoke of the Catholic sense as by the yoke of Scripture itself. Scripture is an infringement on our Private Judgment. It demands our assent; it threatens us if we refuse it; and towards it, too, we may exercise what we presumptuously call the right of judging for ourselves. We may reject Scripture as we reject Antiquity, and we may take the consequences of what in the next world will be seen to be either unavoidable ignorance or self-will. It will be {273} observed, that I am speaking all along of necessary doctrine, or the Faith once delivered; for in matters of inferior moment, both the Church and the individual have room to exercise their own powers; the individual to judge for himself, and the Church to give her judgment, "as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful;" and that for this simple reason, either that Scripture or Tradition is obscure, indeterminate, or silent. But such a necessity is not a privilege, but the absence of a privilege, and such an exercise of judgment is not a boast but a responsibility on either side. How the Church and the individual adjust their respective judgments, has been considered in the last Lecture; and is a mere case of relative duties, as that between a master and scholar, or parent and child.


We have now cleared the way to another important principle of the Anglo-Catholic system, in which with equal discrimination it takes middle ground between Roman teaching and mere Protestantism. Our Church adheres to a double Rule [Note 7], Scripture and Catholic Tradition, and considers that in all matters necessary to salvation both safeguards are vouchsafed to us, and both the Church's judgment and private judgment superseded; whereas the Romanist considers that points of faith may rest on Tradition without Scripture, and the mere Protestant that they may be drawn from Scripture without the witness of Tradition. That she requires Scripture sanction is plain {274} from the Articles; that she requires Catholic sanction is plain from the Athanasian Creed, which, in propounding the necessary faith of a Christian, says not a word about Scripture, resting it upon its being Catholic [Note 8]; that she requires both is plain from the Canon quoted more than once, which declares nothing to be the subject of religious belief except what is agreeable to the doctrine of the Bible, and collected out of it by the Catholic doctors.

This being the state of the case, the phrase 'Rule of Faith,' which is now commonly taken to mean the Bible by itself, would seem, in the judgment of the English Church, properly to belong to the Bible and Catholic Tradition taken together. These two together make up a joint rule [Note 9]; Scripture is interpreted by Tradition, Tradition is verified by Scripture; Tradition gives form to the doctrine, Scripture gives life; Tradition teaches, Scripture proves. And hence both the one and the other have, according to the occasion, sometimes the Catholic Creed, sometimes Scripture, been called by our writers the Rule of Faith; not as if that particular source of truth which was not mentioned at this or that time was thereby excluded, but, as is implied throughout, the question lying not between the Creed and Scripture, but between the Church and the individual. Scripture, when illuminated by the "Catholic Religion," or the Catholic Religion when fortified by Scripture, may either of them be called {275} the Gospel committed to the Church, dispensed to the individual [Note 10].

Having now stated as perspicuously as may be, what seems to be the English doctrine, I have to proceed next to the proof of that part of it which has not yet come into discussion. The grounds on which Catholic Tradition is authoritative have been explained; it follows to inquire into the reasons for considering Scripture as the document of proof, as our Sixth Article declares it to be. In what remains of this Lecture I shall but state the different lines of argument which have been adopted with this view, and make some remarks upon them.


Now Protestants sometimes argue, that the Word of God must necessarily be written; because how else could we be sure of its authenticity and integrity? that the notion of a revelation involves its being written, else the very object of the revelation would be defeated. They have been led to take this ground in rivalry of Roman theologians, who have adopted the very same antecedent line of argument, in behalf of the Church's infallibility, as if the revelation would not really be such, if it left room for various and interminable questions concerning the contents of it. Chillingworth, for instance, uses the following language: "The Scripture is ... a sufficient rule for those to judge by who believe it to be the word of God, (as the Church of England and the Church of Rome both do,) what they are to believe and what they are not to believe ... And my reason hereof is convincing and demonstrative, because nothing is necessary to be believed but what is plainly revealed." [Note 11] Now in spite of the great name of this author, I cannot allow that a revelation, {276} if made, must necessarily be plain, or that faith requires clear knowledge; and that in consequence the uncertain character, supposing it, of Catholic Tradition is a decisive objection to its being considered a divine informant in religious matters. And, in making this avowal, I defend myself by the greater name of Bishop Butler.—"We are not in any sort able to judge," says that profound thinker, "whether it were to have been expected, that the Revelation should have been committed to writing; or left to be handed down, and consequently corrupted by verbal tradition, and at length sunk under it, if mankind so pleased, and during such time as they are permitted, in the degree they evidently are, to act as they will." [Note 12]

Indeed it certainly does seem presumptuous for a creature, not to say a sinner, to take upon him to say, "I will believe nothing, unless I am told in the clearest conceivable form." The utmost that can be safely advanced antecedently, is, that, part of the revelation being confessedly written, it is likely that the whole is, whatever weight may attach to this presumption. Facts, too, are inconsistent with this line of argument; from Adam to Abraham there seems to have been no written revelation at all. Again it is undeniable that the Gospel has been before now preached, and successfully too, where the written word was unknown; if then the argument in dispute be correct, the people addressed ought to have dismissed the preachers, refused to hear anything, because they could not know all, and remained in heathenism. Further, it is not true that a traditionary doctrine cannot be "plainly revealed;" for the transference of the sabbatical rest from the seventh day to the Lord's day, comes to us upon Tradition. If the maxim in question were sound, we should have "convincing and demonstrative {277} reason" for disbelieving that transference. But if Tradition may convey to us one truth, it surely may convey others also. I say there is no antecedent necessity for the written word containing the whole of the Gospel, true though it be, that it does contain it.


Others have considered that Scripture bears witness to its own sufficiency and perfection in matters of doctrine. And to prove this, they bring forward such texts as 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God," &c.; which speaks of the Old Testament, before the New was even completed, much less collected into a volume; and which therefore proves, if anything, that the Old Testament is sufficient without the New, or else that every Scripture, every separate book, is a Canon. Again, it might plausibly be argued, if such strong terms are used of the Old, and yet the New is not excluded from the Canon, but rather is the most important part of it, therefore, even had the New been so spoken of, yet doctrines might have remained behind for Tradition to supply. And so far I suppose is certain, whatever comes of it, that clearly as Scripture speaks of the divine inspiration of its writers, yet it nowhere says that it, by itself, contains all necessary doctrine. Indeed from the beginning to the end of the New Testament there is no recognition even of its own existence, no reflection on itself, no putting forward of its claims as a written document. We simply meet with our Saviour and His Apostles' teaching, and their respective claim of authority for their own words and their own persons, and this for the most part historically conveyed in the books of which it is composed. The last words of the Apocalypse are, I suppose, the sole great exception to this remark, the sole declaration in the books of the New Testament, of an exclusive character, and surely {278} they cannot be considered sufficient in themselves to establish so bold and eventful a negative, as that nothing is necessary doctrine but what is in it.


Others, accordingly, argue from the analogy of the Jewish Law that the Christian Law also must be written. But why should the analogy between the Dispensations hold in this point? does it hold in all points in which Scripture omits to say that it does not hold? At least the Protestantism of the day would not gain by the recognition of such a rule. Again, it might be argued that the Jewish Covenant was one of formal enactments, of rites and ceremonies, and therefore required a written word, but that the Gospel is of the spirit, not of the letter; either then that the New Testament must be obeyed in all points literally, or that perhaps it is not the whole of the revelation; and no party in the controversy consider themselves bound literally to cut off the right hand, and pluck out the right eye, to wash each other's feet, or to have all things in common. It might be added too, that, though the Gospel has definite doctrines and rites, as well as the Jewish Law, yet that the Catholicity of the Tradition, which was wanting under the Law, may supply the office of a written word. I mean to say, that the analogy of the Jewish Law is an insufficient ground on which to reject Tradition from the Gospel Revelation, considering that it is a means of Truth, ample and adequate in its nature, and already employed by Providence in conveying to us the New Testament itself.


Such are some of the most approved methods at the present day for proving that Scripture, and Scripture only, is of supreme authority in matters of faith. Another {279} and acuter line of argument is to call on those who deny it to prove their point;—if there be anything besides Scripture equal to Scripture, to produce it, and give reasons in its behalf. In other words, it grants their principle and denies their matter of fact. And certainly it does seem as if the onus probandi, as it is called, lay with the Roman controversialist, not with us. Such, then, has been the course pursued by some of our greatest writers, as Hooker, who observes, "They which add Traditions, as a part of supernatural necessary truth, have not the truth, but are in error. For they only plead, that whatsoever God revealeth as necessary for all Christian men to do or believe, the same we ought to embrace, whether we have received it by writing or otherwise, which no man denieth; when that which they should confirm, who claim so great reverence unto Traditions, is, that the same Traditions are necessary to be acknowledged divine and holy. For we do not reject them, only because they are not in the Scripture, but because they are neither in Scripture, nor can otherwise sufficiently by any reason be proved to be of God. That which is of God, and may be evidently proved to be so, we deny not but it hath in his kind, although unwritten, yet the self-same force and authority with the written laws of God." [Note 13] Such is the judgment of this great author, who sets us right as to the sense in which Tradition is inadmissible, viz., not in the abstract, and before inquiry, but in the particular case; not as being an uncertain mode of conveying religious truth, as requiring care and thought on our part, and after all leaving us in some degree of doubt, which is the objection noticed above, but because, in matter of fact, certain given Traditions, (so called,) as the Roman, after inquiry, turned out not to be Traditions. {280}


Yet this mode of understanding the Sixth Article would seem to lie open to two serious objections. First, the matter of fact is not at all made out that there are no Traditions of a trustworthy nature. For instance, it is proved by traditionary information only, (for there is no other way,) that the text of Scripture is not to be taken literally, concerning our washing one another's feet, while the command to celebrate the Lord's Supper is to be obeyed in the letter. Again, it is only by Tradition that we have any safe and clear rule for changing the weekly feast from the seventh to the first day.

Again, our divines, such as Bramhall, Bull, Pearson, and Patrick, believed that the Blessed Mary was "Ever-Virgin," as the Church has called her; but Tradition was their only informant on the subject. Thus there are true Traditions still remaining to us, independent of Scripture.


Perhaps it may be said, however, that all that the argument under review really denies is, the existence of any important Traditions, any points of faith, affecting our salvation. But then follows a still more difficult question, as to what are necessary points of faith, and how they are to be defined. We say Scripture contains all necessary doctrines; and why? because there happen to be none except in Scripture. Now there are true Traditions extant of some kind, as by the argument is granted, and such as we even act upon; perhaps then they are necessary. How do we know they are not? The common answer would be, because they are not in Scripture; but this is the very point to be proved. It will perhaps be replied, however, that such Catholic Traditions, as the transference of the {281} Sabbath, though true, do not bring with them any claim to be considered as parts of the necessary faith; that the only Traditions of this nature are those which are contained in the Creed; and that every Article of the Creed can in matter of fact be proved from Scripture; accordingly, that the Sixth Article only means to say that for proving the Articles of the Creed we do not want Tradition, but Scripture is enough. This answer seems so far unexceptionable; yet it does not hold against the second objection which I have to make to the line of argument under consideration. This lies in the wording of the Article itself. The Article is certainly engaged in stating a great principle; it begins with a formal enunciation, as if uttering what it felt to be a bulwark of the Truth, and an antidote against the errors of the time. "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man." How is this fulfilled, by merely proving that it so happens that no doctrine coming from the Apostles is to be found anywhere else,—that it so happens the Creed can be proved from Scripture? Surely the Article speaks, not as if narrating a matter of history, but of doctrine, not a conclusion to be arrived at, but a principle to start with.


These, then, are the difficulties in the proof of our Sixth Article; to which Romanists add the particular structure of the New Testament. They observe it is but an incomplete document on the very face of it. There is no harmony or consistency in its parts. There is no code of commandments, no list of fundamentals. It comprises four lives of Christ, written for different portions of the Church, and not tending to make up one whole. Then follow epistles written to particular Churches on particular {282} occasions, and preserved, (as far as there can be accident in the world,) accidentally. Some books, as the Epistle to the Laodiceans, are altogether lost; others are preserved only in a translation, as perhaps the Gospel of St. Matthew, and the Epistle to the Hebrews; some delivered down with barely sufficient evidence for their genuineness, as the Second Epistle of St. Peter. Nor were they generally received as one volume till the fourth century. These are disproofs, it may be said, of any intention, either in the course of Providence, or in the writers, that the very books of Scripture, though inspired, should be the Canon of faith, that is, that they should bound and complete it. Also, the office of the Church as the "keeper of Holy Writ," seems to make it probable that she was intended to interpret, perhaps to supply what Scripture left irregular and incomplete. On the other hand, the circumstance that religious truths can be conveyed by ordinances, or by Catholic Tradition, as well as by writing, seems an intimation that there is such a second Rule of Faith, equally authoritative and binding with Scripture itself.


This being the state of the case, the line of argument I would adopt is one which many of our most eminent Divines have pursued, and among them the writer of the first Homily. Nor let any one be startled at all this discordance of opinion among our Divines, in their mode of proving one of the great principles of Protestantism, as if it reflected upon the wisdom or soundness of the principle itself. Above all, let not Romanists venture to take advantage of it, lest we retort upon them the vacillations, intrigues, jealousies, and violences displayed in the deliberations of divines attendant on their General Councils, which issued, as they conceive, in infallible decisions. It is well known that the Church of Rome reckons no part of {283} the process by which the Fathers in Council arrive at their final decree to be of any authority. She conceives they are overruled, in whatever manner, to arrive at it. And accordingly, on inspecting their deliberations, we shall find them so full of both moral and intellectual defects, as to make us agree with her that, if their conclusions be infallible, it clearly is in consequence of some miraculous guardianship, and not from any tendency in the human agency employed to produce that result. But surely a theory which serves plausibly to evade a difficulty in the teaching of Rome, may, with more speciousness, and without evasion, be applied to the case under consideration. Which, or whether any of the reasons already mentioned, or presently to be mentioned, was adopted as the ground of the Article by its framers, matters not; nor whether we can ascertain it, or adopt it ourselves.

It matters not, I say, whether or not they only happened to come right on what are, in a logical point of view, faulty premises. They had no time for theories of any kind; and to require theories at their hand, argues an ignorance of human nature, and of the special way in which Truth is struck out in the course of life. Common sense, chance, moral perception, genius, the great instruments in the discovery of principles, do not reason. The discoverers have no arguments, no grounds; they see the Truth, but they do not know how they see it; and if at any time they attempt to prove it, it is as much a matter of experiment with them, as if they had to find a road to a distant mountain which they see with the eye, and they get entangled, embarrassed, and perhaps overthrown in the superfluous endeavour. It is the second-rate men, though most useful in their place, who prove, reconcile, finish, and explain. Probably the popular feeling of the sixteenth century saw the Bible to be the word of God, so as nothing else is His word, by the power of a strong sense, by a sort of moral {284} instinct, or by a happy augury. Even though the first Protestants proceeded to give insufficient reasons for their belief, or at times stated it unguardedly or extravagantly, it would not follow that they did not discern and speak a great Truth. Nor does it follow that we, to whom they have left the task of harmonizing their doctrines, are mistaken, because we are at times at fault, and dispute among ourselves what is the best way of setting about it.


If asked, then, how I know that the Bible contains all truth necessary to be believed in order to salvation, I simply reply with the first Homily, that the early Church so accounted it, that there is a "Consent of Catholic Fathers" in its favour. No matter, whether or not we can see a principle in it; no matter, whether or not we can prove it from reason or Scripture; we receive it simply on historical evidence. The early Fathers so held it, and we throw the burden of our belief, if it be a burden, on them. It is quite impossible they should so have accounted it, except from Apostolic intimations, that it was so to be [Note 14]. Stronger evidence for its truth is scarcely conceivable; for if any but the Scriptures had pretensions to be an oracle of faith, would not the first Successors of the Apostles be that oracle? must not they, if any, have possessed the authoritative traditions of the Apostles? They surely must have felt, as much as we do, the unsystematic character of the Epistles, the silence of Scripture about its own canonicity, or whatever other objections can be now urged against our doctrine; and yet they certainly held it. {285}


If this line of argument can be maintained, there will be this especial force in it as addressed to the controversialists of Rome. They are accustomed to taunt us with inconsistency, as if we used the Tradition of the Church only when, and as far as, we could not avoid it; for instance, for the establishment of the divinity of Scripture, but not of the Creed. "Were it not for the testimony of the Church," they say, "we should not know what books are, what books are not inspired; they do not speak for themselves, or at least when they do they scarcely can be admitted as their own vouchers. Yet a Protestant will quote them implicitly as divine, while he scoffs and rails at that informant to whom he is indebted for his knowledge." Protestants have felt the cogency of this representation; and have been led to explore other modes of proving the genuineness of the New Testament, which might set them free from the first ages of Christianity. Paley, for instance, has shown from the undesigned coincidences of the Acts and Epistles, that they bear with them an internal evidence of their truth. Others have enlarged upon what they conceive to be the beautiful and wise adaptation of the Christian doctrines to each other, which, in the words of one writer, is such as to show that "the system" of the Apostles "is true in the nature of things, even were they proved to be impostors." [Note 15] Ingenious as such arguments are, were they as sound and reverent, as they are generally irreverent and often untenable, still they do not touch the question of the divine origin of the New Testament itself, except very indirectly, nay, sometimes tend to dispense with it. However, allowing what force we will to them, I suppose it is undeniable after all that we do receive the New Testament {286} in its existing shape on Tradition, not on such refinements; for instance, we include the Second Epistle of St. Peter, we leave out St. Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians simply because the Church Catholic has done so. Now this difficulty, whatever be its weight, is fully met by the mode of proof which I have suggested; or rather a point is gained by means of it. We do not discard the Tradition of the Fathers; we accept it; we accept it entirely; we accept its witness concerning itself and against itself; it witnesses, to its own inferiority to Scripture; it witnesses, not only that Scripture is the record, but that it is the sole record of saving truth.


This is the more remarkable from the great stress which the Fathers certainly do lay on the authority of Tradition. They so represent it in its Apostolical and universal character, they so extol and defer to it, that it is difficult to see why they do not make it, what Roman Catholics make it, an independent informant in matters of faith; yet they do not. Whenever they formally prove a doctrine, they have recourse to Scripture; they bring forward Tradition first; they use it as a strong antecedent argument against individual heretics who profess to quote Scripture; but in Councils they ever verify it by the written Word [Note 16]. Now, if we choose to argue and dispute, we may call them inconsistent, and desire an explanation; but, if we will be learners in the school of Christ, we shall take things as we find them, we shall consider their conduct as a vestige and token of some Apostolic appointment, from its very singularity. It is nothing to the purpose, that Catholic and Apostolic Tradition is strong enough, even supposing it to be so, to sustain the weight of an appeal, if, in matter of fact, it was not so employed by the early {287} Church. Christ surely may give to each of His instruments its own place; He has vouchsafed us two informants in saving truth, both necessary, both at hand, Tradition for statement, Scripture for proof; and it is our part rather to thank Him for His bounty, than to choose one and reject the other. Let us be content to accept the canonicity of Scripture on faith.


Moreover this view of the subject rids us of all questions about the abstract sufficiency and perfection of Scripture, as a document of saving truth. Roman Catholics sometimes ask whether some one book, as the Gospel of St. John, would have been sufficient for salvation; and, if not, whether those of the Apostles' writings which happen to remain are sufficient, considering that others of them are undoubtedly lost. We may answer, that any one book of Scripture would be sufficient, provided none other were given us; that the whole Volume, as we have received it, is enough, because we have no more. There is no abstract measure of what is sufficient. Faith cannot believe more than it is told. It is saving, if it believes as much as that, be it little or great.


Lastly, it may be asked of us, how it is, supposing Scripture be, as has been here represented, only the document of appeal, and Catholic Tradition the authoritative source of Christian doctrine, that our Articles say nothing of Catholic Tradition, and contemplate Tradition only in its relation to Ceremonies and Rites which are not "in all places one or utterly like," "and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners?" To which I answer by asking, in turn, why the Articles contain no recognition of the inspiration of Holy Scripture. {288} In truth, we must take the Articles as we find them; they are not a system of theology on whatever view, but a protest against certain specific errors, existing at the time when they were drawn up. There are, as all parties must confess, great truths not expressly stated in the Articles.

NOTE on Lecture 11.

[That the Anglican theory differs from Catholic teaching in this, that it considers the historical documents and acts of the first centuries to furnish so luminous, forcible, direct, and detailed an evidence of the contents of the Apostolic depositum, as to suffice for answering all questions and settling all disputes, which may arise on vital points to the end of time, whereas Catholics hold such a task to require the interposition of a living authority, who cannot err—so much is undeniable. But, as to the other subject of controversy between England and Rome, which is discussed in the foregoing Lecture, viz. whether Scripture, or Scripture and Tradition is the record and rule of faith, this, I conceive is, as between Catholics and Anglicans, of a verbal character. I speak of it in my "Letter to Dr. Pusey," thus:—

"You allow that there is a twofold rule, Scripture and Tradition, and this is all that Catholics say. How then do Anglicans differ from us here? I believe the difference is one of words. Catholics and Anglicans, in the controversy as to whether the whole faith is or is not contained in Scripture, attach different meanings to the word 'proof.' We mean that not every article of faith is so contained there, that it may thence be logically proved, independently of the teaching and authority of the Tradition; but Anglicans mean that every article of faith is so contained there, that it may thence be proved, provided there be added the illustrations and compensations supplied by the Tradition. You do not say that the whole revelation is in Scripture in such sense that pure unaided logic can draw it from the sacred text; nor do we deny that it is in Scripture in an improper sense, in the sense that the Tradition of the Church is able to recognize and determine it there. You do not profess to dispense with Tradition; nor do we forbid the idea of probable, secondary, symbolical, connotative senses of Scripture, over and above those which probably belong to the wording and context."

There is a further reason for considering this question, as between Catholics and Anglicans, to be verbal. In the case of Protestants indeed it is by no means verbal; for they consider, in opposition to Catholics, that Scripture is the one authoritative informant about revealed doctrine, independent and exclusive, and that Tradition is no informant at all. But Anglicans, by allowing that Scripture requires an interpreter, do {289} necessarily agree with Catholics in denying that Scripture is the one authoritative informant. This is what is brought out in the above quotation; but now I add that, by the same allowance, they also agree with Catholics in holding Tradition as well as Scripture to be a substantive and independent informant.

This is plain:—for they follow Vincent of Lerins, Athanasius and Theodoret (vid. infra, pp. 32l-327) in saying that it is Tradition that guides and decides the interpretation of Scripture. E.g., in the Arian controversy, certain passages of Scripture were interpreted by the orthodox in one way, and by the Arians in another: upon this the orthodox appealed to the "ecclesiastical scope," or traditionary sense, in order to determine the question; that is, they turned to Tradition as an arbiter. Is not an arbiter an authority supreme and definitive? is an arbiter a "subordinate" authority? How then do not Anglicans, in spite of the formidable-looking references to the Fathers in a later Lecture, agree with Catholics in holding, contrary to Protestants, that Tradition as well as Scripture is an informant authoritative and independent?]

Top | Contents | Works | Home


1. [Is it not as difficult, and just as much and as little of a usurpation, to judge of what Tradition says, as of what Scripture says?]
Return to text

2. Accordingly in both parties there is a tendency to deny that Scripture has one definite unalterable meaning; vid. above, the quotation from Cardinal Cusa, Lecture ii., p. 97, on the one hand, and the Latitudinarian doctrine on the other.
Return to text

3. [How can history, that is, words and deeds which are dead and gone, act as an effectual living decider of quarrels between living men? To apply past principles, doctrines, laws, precedents to present cases requires an applier, that is, a living and present mind; and if neither the body is to decide nor the individual member of it, who is there to decide when questions arise, as they will to the end of time?]
Return to text

4. [It must not be forgotten that the Council of Trent too forbids any interpretation of Scripture which runs counter to the unanimous consent of the Fathers. But in order to determine what the Fathers say, and in what they agree, the Church's witness involves a judgment. Judges in our Courts of law are primarily witnesses to the law, written and unwritten, but still they are called judges of the law, and are truly such. And who can deny that a Jury judges of facts? The facts of Antiquity are not too clear to dispense with the exercise of a judgment upon them. The view in the text is a theory which will not stand.]
Return to text

5. [This is an assumption. The Anglican Church should thus act according to its theory, but does not in fact, because Antiquity cannot fulfil the office thus gratuitously put upon it. Is Article 35 in Antiquity without an interpreter?]
Return to text

6. [And as little hope of finding it in the greater number of questions which arise. Thus the subject of Justification, Luther's cardinal article, had not come before the Ancient Church, and both parties could plausibly appeal to the Fathers for dicta in their own favour in logical controversy.]
Return to text

7. "With them," the Romanists, "both Scripture and Fathers are, as to the sense, under the correction and control of the present Church; with us the present Church says nothing, but under the direction of Scripture and Antiquity taken together, one as the rule, the other as the pattern or interpreter. Among them, the present Church speaks by Scripture and Fathers; with us, Scripture and Fathers speak by the Church … Two witnesses are better than one, though one be superior."—Waterland, Eccles. Antiq. 8, 9.
Return to text

8. E.g. "It is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith;" "we are forbidden by the Catholic religion;" "this is the Catholic faith, which, except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved." It is quite certain that Protestantism, as we experience it in this day, would have worded it, "This is the Scriptural faith," &c. &c. On the other hand the Articles, as was to be expected, speak of the Three Creeds as "proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture."
Return to text

9. "The Scriptures and the Creed are not two different Rules of Faith, but one and the same Rule, diluted in Scripture, contracted in the Creed."—Bramhall, Works, p. 402.
Return to text

10. The Articles do not introduce the term, "Rule of Faith," at all.
Return to text

11. Chillingworth, Answ. ii. 104.
Return to text

12. Anal. part ii. c. iii.
Return to text

13. Hooker, Eccl. Pol. i. 14.
Return to text

14. In the Apostolical Fathers, Clement and Ignatius, as writing close upon Apostolic times, when local were stronger than ecclesiastical traditions, the special recognition of Scripture as the supreme authority does not appear; but we find it in St. Polycarp, who lived to the next generation.
Return to text

15. Erskine's Internal Evidence, p. 17.
Return to text

16. [This is strange; vid. infr. p. 312 note 2.]
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home

Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.