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At page 25, lines 12 to 21, it is said, “ There were instances, it seems, known to Irenæus, of true believers who did not, as yet, know any thing of the New Testament, yet were able to stop the mouths of heretics by merely avouching the ancient apostolical tradition. As was the condition, duty and privileges of those faithful and simple men, such would have been those of the whole Christian world, had the inspired Scriptures either remained unwritten, or perished with so many other monuments of antiquity.” Does the writer really think that the truth could have been preserved in this way without a perpetual miracle? Is not this placing too high a value on tradition? At page 27, “The test or touchstone which he (St. John) recommends, is agreement with the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation.” This Mr. Keble thinks he sees in,
Every one that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God.”
But the phrase, come in the flesh,” probably means only that he really had human nature, and was not man in appearance only, as the Gnostics held; which heresy St. John's Gospel, it is said, was in part written to confute. The phrase, come in the flesh,” is used elsewhere to express the above meaning. Page 28, “ The very writings of the apostles were to be tried by it (tradition) before they could be incorporated into the canon.” If the writers were inspired apostles, they could not err, and then it could only be necessary to prove that the writings were really the works of their supposed authors; if the writers were not inspired, then indeed it was necessary to compare the writings with the admitted standard of written or unwritten truth. Page 32, it is asserted that “not a few fragments yet remain, very precious and sacred fragments, of the unwritten teaching of the first age of the church ;” and “above all, the atholic doctrine of the most Holy Trinity, as contained in the Nicene Creed,” is, Mr. Keble says, an “ascertainable part of the primitive unwritten system.” This is a bold assertion indeed! As contained in the Nicene Creed ! No such thing! Now, as the attainment of just ideas regarding the person of our Saviour must at all times have been a point of anxious inquiry to all Christians, I think we cannot have a better subject to try the value of tradition as a criterion of truth than the Nicene Trinity. “We ascertain it" (says Mr. Keble)" by application of the well-known rule, Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibusAntiquity, Universality, Catholicity.” Let us examine then. Horsley, in his controversy with Priestley, notoriously failed to prove that the Trinity was the generally-prevailing doctrine of the primitive church, in any form, much less in that of the Nicene Creed. On the other hand, Priestley made it clear that the doctrine of the divinity of Christ did not establish itself without much opposition, especially from the unlearned among the Christians, who thought that it savoured of polytheism. And he shews that is was introduced by those who had a philosophical education, and that it was by degrees adopted by others, on account of its “covering the great offence of the cross" "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness" (to use St. Paul's words), by exalting the personal dignity of our Saviour. To prove the opposition of the unlearned, he quotes a curious and conclusive passage from Tertullian, viz., "Simplices enim, nec dixerim imprudentes et idiotæ, quæ major semper credentium pars est, quoniam et ipsa regula fidei a pluribus diis seculi ad unicum deum verum transfert, non intelligentes unicum quidem, sed cum sua æconomia esse credendum, expavescunt ad economiam. Numerum et dispositionem trinitatis, divisionem præsumunt unitatis. Itaque duos, et tres, jam jactitant, a nobis prædicari, se vero unius dei cul. tores præsumunt. Monarchiam, inquiunt, tenemus. Monarchiam sonare student Latini, æconomiam intelligere nolunt etiam Græci.” (Ad Praxeam, Sec. iii
. p. 502.) “The simple, the ignorant and the unlearned, who are always the greater part of the body of Christians, since the rule of faith itself transfers their worship of many gods to the one true God, not understanding that the unity of God is to be maintained, but with the economy, dread this economy, imagining that this number and disposition of a Trinity is a division of the Unity. They, therefore, will have it, that we are worshipers of two,
and even of three Gods, but that they are the worshipers of one God only. We, they say, hold the Monarchy. Even the Latins have learned to bawl out for Monarchy, and the Greeks themselves will not understand the economy." (Tertullian to Praxeas, Sec. iii. p. 502.) And on another occasion he says, “Sic te adhuc numerus scandalizat trinitatis.” (Ad Praxeam, Sec. xii. p. 506.) “Does the number of Trinity still shock you ?"
Tertullian, said to be the most ancient Latin father whose works are extant, was born about the middle of the second century. The foregoing quotations are from his Defence of the Trinity (ad Praxeam), which had not at that time, it appears, become the popular or general belief. This is a remarkable fact, and ill accords with Professor Keble’s assertions, or his rule, “Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus.”
In page 34, there is this candid confession: “We, that is all of the Anglican Church who have had any regular training in theology, are so early taught to trace the Creed in the Scriptures, and to refer at once certain portions of both Testaments to certain high mysteries of the Catholic faith, that it commonly appears to ourselves as though we had learned those mysteries directly from the Scriptures. But there are few, surely, who on careful recollection would not be compelled to acknowledge that the Creed, or some corresponding catechetical instruction, ħad prepossessed them with these truths, before ever they thought of proving them from Holy Writ." It is then said that the "Nicene Creed itself, to which perhaps, of all formula, we are indebted for our sound belief in the proper divinity of the Son of God, even this Creed had its origin, not from the Scripture, but from tradition.” The bishops who promulgated it, he says, “did not profess to have collected it out of the Bible, but simply to express the faith found in the churches, received by tradition from the apostles.” But how does this agree with Tertullian's admission of dislike to the Trinity in those who are always, as he says, the majority of believers ? Was it an esoteric doctrine confined to a few? since, as appears, it was not the universal or even the general belief. The fact is, that a long course of time and much ingenuity were necessary to bring the doctrine of a Trinity to that regular form in which it exists in the Nicene Creed. The first germ of it may be found, perhaps, in the writings of Philo, a learned Jew of Alexandria in the
first century, who mixed up the philosophy of the Egyptians and that of Plato with the simple doctrines of the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly in explanation of the Mosaic account of the creation. (See a curious account of him in Enfield's Abridgement of Brucker's History of Philosophy.) Next to him, Justin Martyr, a philosopher of Grecian origin, well versed in the doctrines of Plato and in Egyptian philosophy, (after being converted to Christianity,) has the demerit of mingling learned and complex, but fanciful, notions with the simplicity of divine truth. He flourished in the beginning of the second century. From this time the doctrine of a Trinity (amidst much opposition) went on gradually assuming form and shape, until the Council of Nice, when by united skill it was moulded into the state found in the Nicene Creed. All this is matter of history, and cannot be controverted. This Creed cannot be proved from Scripture alone, as seems to be admitted by Mr. Keble, (page 34, lines 11 et seq.); and Tertullian shews that tradition fails on this point also. Therefore, as “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not required of any man to be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation,” I shelter myself under this sixth Article of the “Anglican" Church, and confess that I do not believe the doctrine exhibited in the Nicene Creed. But this symbol, complete as it seems, was not thought sufficiently explicit; therefore another Creed, the putative father of which is Athanasius, has been manufactured; and what further abstractions may be thought requisite in future, time alone can shew.
At page 33, a parallel is drawn between our obligation as Englishmen to obey the common law of the land and a supposed obligation to obey traditionary church rules. But what is the ground of obligation in the former case ? Expediency only. And so long as the people, through their representatives in the legislature, consider it expedient, and no longer, is it binding. In fact, is not this common law, or“ lex non scripta,” continually modified by the “ lex scripta" of our Acts of Parliament? Church rules, then, founded on tradition only, and not on Scripture, rest on the same foundation; these things being non-essentials. And the silence of Scripture respecting church government admirably adapts Christianity for the reception of every age and people, by not interfering unnecessarily with the prevailing manners and customs, where these are harmless.* But with regard to the proof of any doctrine by well-ascertained tradition, the case is different, and if this coincide with Scripture also, the obligation is imperative.
of the two channels by which divine communications may have been conveyed to us since the time of our Saviour, viz. oral tradition
“ It seems to us utterly repugnant to the idea of a universal religion intended for all ages and nations, and for all the progressive states of society to the end of the world, to suppose that in its infancy it established an order of worship, instruction and discipline, which was to remain inviolable in all future times. Our religion is too spiritual and inward, and cares too little about its exterior, to bind itself in this everlasting chain. The acknowledged indefiniteness of the New Testament in regard to this subject, is no mean proof of the enlarged and prospective wisdom of its Founder.” (Dr. Channing.)
and writing, the latter seems very preferable, because it is scarcely possible to decide which are well-founded and which are ill-founded traditions. No certain reliance can be placed on either fathers or councils. Bishop Watson somewhere remarks, that“ the ecclesiastical history of every century is little more than the struggles of different sects to overthrow the system of others and build up their own.” And Professor Keble himself has quoted (in Note H) the well-known passage from Chillingworth, that “there are Popes against Popes, Councils against Councils, some Fathers against others, the same Fathers against themselves, a consent of Fathers of one age against a consent of Fathers of another age, the Church of one age against the Church of another age; traditive interpretations of Scripture are pretended, but there are few or none to be found.” Does the Professor controvert this ? Not at all; he merely asserts that which, if it were true, is nothing to the purpose in a matter-of-fact case like this, that Child lingworth was “sceptical on the highest points of faith." Do I conclude, then, that tradition should be slighted altogether? By no means; but that in our inquiries the greatest caution should be used, since it is so very doubtful; that the advocates of tradition greatly overrate its value as a key to the interpretation of Scripture doctrine; that the extreme estimation in which they hold it, and would use it, would have a tendency to seal up the Scriptures from the laity, as formerly was the case. The Church of Rome, we know, founded many claims on this authority of tradition; the abuse of such authority is always to be feared ; and there seems to be no security against any abuse, but in keeping the Scriptures, really as well as nominally, open to the laity, by preserving to them the right of private judgment.
I think I perceive clearly in writers of this school a disposition to require for the uninspired clergy of the present day, as the hereditary successors of the apostles, a sort of divine right of interpreting Scripture for us. But surely this is equivalent to the authority claimed and exercised by the Romish pope and clergy, as the successors of St. Peter, and, if allowed, would, as effectually as in the latter case, take away all exercise of private judgment and liberty of conscience. A late dignitary of the Church, observing that "heretical errors had overspread the land,” said it had arisen from the free toleration afforded to all persons in matters of religion." But the question is, which is the greater evil, the heresies or the want of toleration? On this point I confidently refer to “ Villiers's Essay on the Reformation by Luther," before mentioned. Mr. Manning (page 15) quotes St. Augustine as follows: “In those things which are openly set in Scripture, is to be found every thing that contains the faith and practice of life;" and from St. Chrysostom, “If we will thus search the Scriptures, not barely but accurately, we shall be able to attain our salvation; if we will continually dwell upon them, we shall know both the right rule of doctrine and the most exact practice of life.” Yet elsewhere Mr. Manning, admitting the truth of the sixth Article of the “ Anglican” Church, (page 23,) doubts the sufficiency of private interpretation, because “every man is not able to interpret for himself." Now, as far as concerns practice, it will be conceded, I presume, that every serious man, of plain, sound understanding, is competent. (St. Augustine and St. Chrysostom in the above passages consider such men competent to judge of both faith and practice.) But if a belief in certain assumed, obscure, metaphysical mysteries is necessary, then, indeed, the majority of men cannot interpret for themselves; they must receive these doctrines on trust or not at all. But taking things on trust was no part of St. Paul's creed, for he says, “ Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” I conclude, therefore, that the difficulty of comprehending what is really necessary, is not so great as some imagine, and I think this might be proved from Scripture as well as from the reason of the thing. I am rather jealous of autho. ritative interpretation in any quarter since the apostolic age.*
“ The doctrines which have created so many controversies turn entirely on the mysteries of the various religions.”- -“ The Christian revelation, when it taught men how they should act to render themselves worthy of God, abstained from explaining that which they could not understand, namely, the nature of God and his connexion with man.'
-“ Jesus Christ spoke to men with a divine authority; but men were curious to know who Jesus Christ himself was, and how it happened that his authority was confounded with that of the Divinity. Hundreds of hypotheses were laid down by ingenious men, who all relied on the Scriptures—all called themselves Catholics, all in truth were Catholics, until the period when the temporal authority, which had hitherto wavered between the conflicting opinions, decided in favour of the one and persecuted the others. But after the divine nature of Jesus Christ had been proclaimed by the conquering party, still more abstract questions were started by the Catholic doctors, on the union of the divine with the human nature, and on the union of the two wills in the same being. — -But from the moment we compare the extent of the subject with the narrowness of our faculties, we must feel convinced that every man must form a different opinion of it, in proportion to his capacity, and varying with its extent; and that should he repeat the same words to express this mystery, still in his heart he would put a different construction on such words.” (Sismondi's “Review of the Progress of Religious Opinions during the 19th Century,” pp. 56—58.)
It is vain, then, to expect uniformity of belief, and it seems best to secure peace and foster the spirit of religion by leaving all to form their own belief, assisted by the critical skill, learning and traditionary knowledge of learned men, ecclesiastics and others. And with regard to certain things at present “invisible or dimly seem,” be
“There can be no objection to any Christian's expressing his own ideas of the doctrine of Scripture in his own language, but there is great objection to such statements being adopted by Christian churches, and vested with any sort of authority.”
“ To make any order of men the depositaries and peculiar dispensers of truth, is saying, Do not read, it is not necessary; do not think, it is done for you; do not inquire, doubt, compare, discuss, decide; here are persons to whom all that is delegated. They say to the inquiring mind, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no further.'” (Lectures on Subjects connected with the Corruption, Revival and Future Influence of Genuine Christianity.) From the above cause, how has the human mind become stagnant in ultra-catholic countries !