28 December, 2012

Vincent of Lerins on the Primacy and Sufficiency of Scripture

"A General Rule for distinguishing the Truth of the Catholic Faith from the Falsehood of Heretical Pravity.
[5.] But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.
[6.] Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

Vincent of Lerins (c. 400-450), Commonitory, chapter 2, 4-6 (NPNF II, 11:132)

The so-called Vincentian Canon ("care must especially be had that that be held which was believed everywhere [ubique], always [semper], and by all [ab omnibus]") is often quoted against the Reformation by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Seldom is it quoted in context from the Commonitory, including Vincent's attestation to both the primacy and sufficiency of scripture. Setting aside for the moment the question of the usefulness of Vincent's Canon in our time, it actually expresses a position on Scripture and Tradition which accords with that of the Lutheran Reformation, which ascribed primacy to Holy Scripture while cordially receiving the ancient creeds and dogmatic decisions of the catholic church as secondary authorities. Thus the three chief symbols of the Lutheran Church, which exists in continuity with the ancient western catholic church, are the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.   

Free Hit Counter