Monday, June 8, 2009

FATHERS: The Vincentian Canon Part 2


What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a portion of the Church has cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.

But what, if in antiquity itself there be found error on the part of two or three men, or at any rate of a city or even of a province? Then it will be his care by all means, to prefer the decrees, if such there be, of an ancient General Council to the rashness and ignorance of a few. But what, if some error should spring up on which no such decree is found to bear? Then he must collate and consult and interrogate the opinions of the ancients, of those, namely, who, though living in divers times and places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, stand forth acknowledged and approved authorities: and whatsoever he shall ascertain to have been held, written, taught, not by one or two of these only, but by all, equally, with one consent, openly, frequently, persistently, that he must understand that he himself also is to believe without any doubt or hesitation. (A Commonitory (A Reminder), Vincent of Lerins, 434 AD)


St Vincent uncovers for us a common method by which errant interpretations of Christian doctrine spread. He calls this method “Novel Contagion.” A contagion is a disease that is quickly spread among the people. In using this term he infers that heresy in doctrine often has the attributes of a fast spreading epidemic. As a fine doctor he remedies this infirmity with a dosage of historical study. This is a very foul tasting medicine to the contemporary person who has been raised and fed on the notion that we are the generation that has finally arrived at true intellect and knowledge. There is an unspoken, but common consensus in the 21st century west that anyone before the enlightenment was only one step above a caveman. However, one quick glance and all who partake in the writings of will be assured that they not lacking intelligence.

Vincent not only assumes that those who went before him were intelligent and rational, but also that they were closer to the point of origin, and therefore closer to a purer understanding of the truth. For this reason he not only tells his readers to study what was said in the past but he also guides the one who would follow the universal understanding of the church to the conclusion made a by a consensus of those in the past. He does not commend that we rest our understanding on any one single person’s view, but on the whole. No matter how beloved or how respescted; be it Athanasius, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Symeon, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, or Cramner, the cure for the epidemic of innovation is found in the consensus of the church.

No comments:

Post a Comment