Monday, June 1, 2009

FATHERS: The Vincentian Canon Part 1

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. Moreover, 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. (A Commonitory (A Reminder), Vincent of Lerins, 434 AD)

The Commonitory of St. Vincent is one of the most prized possessions that the church owns. It contains within it the ultimate formula for stripping the fake wool from the disguised wolves in the Lord’s garden. This claim is not easily accepted by some, especially those who know little about the consensus of biblical interpretation found in the church fathers, and less about the conciliar theology hammered out in the seven ecumenical councils. Nevertheless, Vincent is abundantly clear in pointing out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with scripture, yet, its depth is such that every heretic from Novatian to Nestorious was able to build and support their theological conclusions from the very scriptures themselves. Hence, the problem is not the scriptures, but the interpreters. This leaves a rather large and even embarrassing problem at our doorstep, and it is this: how do we know for certain, and with complete and whole certitude that our interpretation is the actual meaning that God placed on the texts of a particular scripture? The answer given to us by Vincent, our interpretation must be in accordance with that which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. He states it another way: it must be inline with the universality, antiquity, and the consent of the church. Any other kind of interpretation is not apostolic; in fact, it is a renegade approach to God’s truth, and places us in the footsteps of the heretics.

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