...are the ones that make the biggest difference

8.18.2004

St Vincent of Lerins

I got my birthday wish - the 38 volumes of Early Church Fathers (the best birthday gift ever, and still at $200 at Christian Books Direct through Sept 1st - normally $1100!), and due to a discussion elsewhere, started reading through St Vincents Commonitory, which continues his famous rule for determining correct tradition - everyone, always and everywhere. A great quote from chapter 9 (emphasis mine):

Which being the case, is there any one either so audacious as to preach any other doctrine than that which the Church preaches, or so inconstant as to receive any other doctrine than that which he has received from the Church? That elect vessel, that teacher of the Gentiles, that trumpet of the apostles, that preacher whose commission was to the whole earth, that man who caught up in heaven, cries and cries again in his Epistles to all, always, in all places, "If any man preach any new doctrine, let him be accursed." On the other hand, an ephemeral, moribund set of frogs, fleas, and flies, such as the Pelagians call out in opposition, and that to Catholics, "Take our word, follow our lead, accept our exposition, condemn what you used to hold, hold what you used to condemn, cast aside the ancient faith, the institutes of your fathers, the trusts left for you by your ancestors and receive instead, - what? I tremble to utter it: for it is so full of arrogance and self-conceit, that it seems to me that not only to affirm it, but even to refute it, cannot be done without guilt in some sort.

This is one of those times when Providence seems to be very active in small details. This kind of anti-heresy thinking, which suggests that even in the refutation of heresy one may somehow be contaminated by its stink, dovetails neatly into what I was talking about with the "radically inclusive" church. It is the abandonment of the "ancient faith, the institutes of [our] fathers" and the condemnation of what they held. But St Vincent's work also brushes up against a series of discussions over at Pontifications and other linked blogs, which has detailed the problems with sola scriptura and the problems the Anglican communion is currently experiencing in its implementation. There is also a great article over on Tituseonenine, again from an Anglican perspective but exploring the idea that sola scriptura inevitably leads to schism. St Vincent points out quite eloquently that even heretics quote scripture:

Here, possibly, some one may ask, Do heretics appeal to Scripture? [sic] They do indeed, and with a vengeance; for you may see them scamper through every single book of Holy Scripture, - through the books of Moses, the books of Kings, the Psalms, the Epistles, the Gospels, the Prophets. Whether among their own people, or among strangers, in private or in public, in speaking or in writing, at convivial meetings, or in the streets, hardly ever do they bring forward anything of their own which they do not endeavor to shelter under words of Scripture.

Which also happens to describe a debate between any two differing Protestants over who is right. "To the Proof-Text-Mobile, Bible-man!" Check out any of a number of Christian message boards, and you will see what I mean. Which raises the unavoidable point that it is not just a question of authority, but of interpretation. All Christians regard the Bible as authoritative, but if it can be used to support heretical ideas, how can we be sure that any interpretation is or is not correct? One answer is, of course, abundantly clear, but not always easy to embrace.

(I'm really not trying to get into that whole sola scriptura discussion, only pointing out the congruence of these different things.)

3 comments:

Daniel said...

Brother! I saw that set advertised on the front cover of the most recent CBD catalog and immediately the coveting began. I have $200 saved up from my birthday that I was planning to spend on an Apple AirPort Express and some new software...but I don't think I can do without these books.

Nathan said...

Daniel -

Get 'em! They are excellent resources. They've got detailed introductions to every text, and in thumbing through the volume on the Councils, there are little commentaries from different scholars on the canons and how the church put them into practice. And on some of the more obscure or difficult passages, they have explanatory essays that really open up the text. I can't recommend them highly enough, especially for only $200!

Daniel said...

What's the paper/binding quality like? I ordered CBD's four volume reprint set of Lewis Sperry Chafer's Systematic Theology a few years ago in a fit of theological conservativism =) and was a little disappointed in the quality of the volumes themselves. (Forgive me for clogging up your comments with this; I would have emailed but I couldn't find your address! Mine's on my blog if you want to continue this that way.)