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VAN MILDERT, BISHOP.-Bampton Lectures.

Much discussion has from time to time arisen respecting the deference due to the writings of the Primitive Fathers of the Church, and the use and value of ecclesiastical antiquity: points of considerable moment, and deserving of attentive examination. It seems to be indisputable, that the Primitive Fathers are not to be regarded as Divinely inspired, since otherwise their writings would necessarily have formed a part of the Sacred Canon. The question, therefore, is, whether, admitting them to have no more than human authority, they have any special claim to our reverential regard, which places them on higher ground than that of their ecclesiastical successors. And this question is to be determined by a fair consideration of any peculiar advantages they might possess, and of their ability and disposition to turn them to good account.

Against any such deference being had to these our spiritual forefathers, it has been sometimes contended, that their writings now extant are few in number; that several of them, if not spurious, are adulterated, through the pious frauds, the sinister designs, or the ignorance of after-ages; that their style and reasoning are obscure; that in their zeal to defeat opponents, they occasionally suppress or disguise the truth; that they are on certain points inconsistent with each other, and with themselves; and that it is often difficult to ascertain whether the opinions they advance are meant to be declaratory of the judgment of the Church, or delivered only as their own private interpretations. For these and similar reasons, it has been alleged that their testimony, as genuine witnesses of the Faith, may deservedly be impeached; and that neither Protestants nor Papists have hesitated occasionally to depart from their authority.

But of these charges it has repeatedly been shown, that many are greatly exaggerated; some wholly unfounded; while others affect not their writings, more than the writings of almost all controversial authors of ancient date, adverting (as they must necessarily do) to times and persons, and local circumstances, now but imperfectly known, and which cast a shade of obscurity over some of their narratives and their reasonings. These afford no good argument for laying their productions under a general interdict. Against an implicit submission to their authority, they are, doubtless, important considerations: but against the use and application of them as documents of more than ordinary value, they merit but little attention.

In answer, therefore, to such objections, it may suffice to observe, that supposing the Primitive Fathers to have been men of only common discernment and integrity, their testimony

respecting the doctrines then actually received by the Church, and maintained against the heresies then prevailing, must have peculiar weight. Those among them who had been personally conversant with the Apostles, and who derived their knowledge of the Christian Faith from what they continually heard of their preaching and discourse, as well as from their writings, seem to have claim to a regard only short of that which was due to their inspired preceptors. To place such men as Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp, no higher in the scale of authority, with respect to the value of their testimony on these points, than Bishops and Pastors in later times, betrays an error of judgment which on any other subject of investigation analogous to this, would be deemed preposterous. On the part of their immediate successors, somewhat of the same extraordinary claim to acceptance still presents itself, though with a certain diminution of its force. Descending still lower in the scale of history, this authority rapidly diminishes, and our judgment in their favour will be chiefly, if not solely, influenced by the internal evidence their writings afford of some superior qualifications in the authors themselves. Yet, until the great schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, and the full establishment of the Papal usurpation, the Fathers of the Church appear to have been deeply sensible of the obligation laid upon thein to "contend for the Faith once delivered to the saints," and to guard the sacred deposit committed to their charge, against every vain imagination which the Heretic or Schismatic might labour to introduce.

Disclaiming, therefore, any superstitious reverence towards these venerable men, it may reasonably be urged, that their peculiarly advantageous circumstances demand especial consideration; and that unless their characters, both moral and intellectual, could be so successfully impeached as to prove them wholly unworthy of credit, their testimony is of the very first importance in ascertaining the Primitive Faith. In matters requisite to the formation of the Church; in framing Confessions of Faith, more or less explicit according to the errors it was necessary to discountenance; and in adopting means for the perpetuation of these benefits to the latest ages; they appear as having been at first deputed by the Apostles for purposes the most important, and as acting under impressions of a most awful responsibil ity. To them were also confided those Sacred Oracles on which our faith now most essentially depends. Through their ministry we have received these invaluable treasures; to their zeal and fidelity, under Providence, we owe the transmission of the pure word of God to these present times: and the charge thus consigned to our care, we are bound to deliver unimpaired to succeeding generations.

If, in addition to these special grounds of confidence in the

early Fathers, we admit what has been contended for by learned and judicious Divines, that the extraordinary gifts of the SPIRIT, (especially that of "discerning of spirits,") were not entirely withdrawn from the Church till long after the time of the Apostles, this would give still stronger confirmation to their claims. For though we should not be warranted in a supposition that even these extraordinary gifts conferred authority for promulgating new articles of Faith, or infringing on any exclusive prerogative of the Sacred writers, yet it would go far towards establishing interpretations of Christian Doctrine thus received and sanctioned, on a firmer basis than any on which their less gifted successors can ground their pretensions.

But, not to insist on any disputable points, the use and value of ecclesiastical antiquity in general, and of its earliest productions in particular, is sufficiently evident, upon the ordinary principles of criticism and evidence. As works so nearly contemporary with those of the Sacred Canons, they illustrate the diction and phraseology of the inspired Penmen; they give an insight into the history of the age in which the writings of the New Testament were composed; they explain allusions to rites and customs, which otherwise might be involved in much obscurity; and, what is of still more importance, they assist in fixing the sense of controverted texts of Scripture, by the substantial evidence they afford of their generally received interpretation in the primitive ages of the Church. These advantages are derived to us from the public acts of the Church recorded in the most ancient ecclesiastical histories; from the prescribed formularies of Faith then in general use and from the censures authoritatively passed upon such as departed from these standards of reputed orthodoxy. Hence we are assured of the care and solicitude manifested from the beginning by spiritual rulers, to preserve the truth from corruption: and when the importance of the doctrines themselves, as well as the opportunities they enjoyed of tracing them to the fountain head, are duly considered, it can hardly be conceived, that they who had the guidance and government of the Primitive Church should either be universally uninformed as to any fundamental truth, or universally embrace any fundamental error.

It is, therefore, with no common reverence that these authorities are to be regarded; nor can we detract from their just pretensions without hazard to some of the main foundations of our Faith. "No man," says Bishop Bull, "can oppose Catholic consent, but he will at last be found to oppose both the Divine Oracles and sound reason." Nevertheless, we do not claim for them any infallibility, any commission to make further revelations of the Divine will, or any absolute authority as Scripture interpreters. The appeal still lies from them, as from all other

religious instructors, to that Word itself, which was no less their Rule of Faith than it is ours: and the highest degree of deference that can be due to them, may be paid without any infringement of that inviolable maxim, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of GOD."-Sermon v. p. 94.

OXFORD,

The Feast of the Purification.

POSTSCRIPT.

On the particular subject of this Catena, may be profitably consulted:

Laud's Conference with Fisher.

Thorndike de ratione ac jure finiendi controversias Ecclesiæ.
Patrick on Tradition.

Brett on Tradition.

Waterland on the Use and Value of Ecclesiastical Antiquity.
Allix-Judgment of the Jewish Church.

To which may be added the following references :

Whitgift, Defence, pp. 95. 881.

Wall, Pref. to Infant Baptism, vol. I. p. 6.

Reeves, Pref. to Apologies, vol. I. pp. 6. 16. 26.
Johnson, Unbloody Sacrifice, vol. I. p. 212.

Marshall, Pref. to Cyprian, pp. 3. 4. 6. 12.

Bisse, Sermon before Sons of Clergy (1717), pp. 11, 12.

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THE extract from Archbishop Ussher's Answer to a Jesuit, contained in Tract 72, on the subject of the ancient Commemorations for the Dead in Christ, may fitly be succeeded by an inquiry as to what degree and sort of proof remains for the Roman tenet of Purgatory, after deducting from the evidence those usages or statements of the early Church, which are commonly supposed, but, as Ussher shows, improperly, to countenance it. Ussher's explanations have had the effect, it is presumed, of cutting away the prima facie evidence, on which the doctrine is usually rested; and it now remains to see what is left when it is withdrawn. With this view it is proposed in the following pages to draw out in detail the evidence alleged by the Romanists in behalf of their belief, with such remarks as may be necessary, in order to form a fair estimate of it. A plain statement of the docrine itself, and of its rise, shall be also attempted, as not unseasonable at a time when the strength of Romanism rests in no small degree in its opponents mistaking the points in debate, and making or refuting propositions which but indirectly or partially bear upon the errors which they desire to combat.

Before commencing, it is necessary to warn the reader against estimating the magnitude or quality of any of those errors by its apparent dimensions in the theory. What seems to be a small deviation from correctness in the abstract system, becomes considerable and serious when it assumes a substantive form. This is especially the case with all doctrinal discussions, in which the undeveloped germs of many diversities of practice and moral character lie thick together and in small compass, and as if promiscuously and without essential differences. The highest truths differ from the most miserable delusions by what appears to be a few words or letters. The discriminating mark of orthodoxy, the Homoousion, has before now been ridiculed, however irra

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