28 October 2010

Simon and Jude

Today on this Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, the Carthusians at Matins listened to an excerpt from the ‘Commonitory’ of Saint Vincent of Lérins. It is believed to have been written somewhere around the year 434. While the author identifies himself as ‘Peregrinus’, it was Gennadius of Marseilles who credits it to Vincent of Lérins. This Treatise is sometimes referred to as a ‘Remembrancer’, because Vincent’s goal was to provide himself with a principle to identify what is Catholic truth and what is error. Thus, he wrote this Treatise as a handy reference in which he could keep the truth ever fresh on his mind. Scripture, for example has many interpretations. Vincent of Lérins supports the idea that the proper interpretation(s) of Sacred Scripture must be supported by the ancient traditions and the universality of the Church – the deposit of faith, ‘the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth’ (1 Timothy 3:15), handed down to us by the apostles, like Simon and Jude, the pillars of faith. All other interpretations contrary, according to this Treatise, are to be rejected. Here is that excerpt:

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. 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 and 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 do not depart from those interpretations which were held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if we embrace the definitions and doctrines of almost all the bishops and doctors.

The true and genuine Catholic is one who loves the truth of God, who loves the Church, who loves the Body of Christ. He esteems divine religion and the Catholic Faith above every thing, above the authority of man, above his regard, above his genius, above his eloquence, above his philosophy. Disregarding all these things, he continues steadfast and established in the faith, resolves that he will believe only that which the Church has always and universally believed. Whatsoever new and unheard of doctrine he shall find to have been furtively introduced by someone or another, contrary to that of all the saints, this, he will understand, does not pertain to religion, but is permitted as a trial, being instructed especially by the words of the blessed Apostle Paul, who writes thus in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: ‘There must also be divisions, that they who are approved may be made manifest among you’ (1 Corinthians 11:19). This is the reason why God doesn’t immediately eradicate errors, that it may be apparent of each individual, how tenacious and faithful and steadfast he is in his love of the Catholic faith.

But some one will say, shall there, then, be no progress in Christ's Church? Certainly -- all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on the condition that it be real progress, not an alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged in itself; by alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same interpretation. The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same.

There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. An infant's limbs are small, a young man's large, yet the infant and the young man are the same. Men when full grown have the same number of joints that they had when children; and if something new appears, these were already present in the embryo, so that nothing new is produced in them when old which was not already latent in them when children. This, then, is undoubtedly the true and legitimate rule of progress; this is the established and most beautiful order of growth, that the mature age ever develops in the man those parts and forms which the wisdom of the Creator had already framed beforehand in the infant. Whereas, if the human form were changed into some shape belonging to another kind, or if the number of its limbs were increased or diminished, the result would be that the whole body would perish or become monstrous, or at least weakened. It behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress. It needs to be consolidated by years, develop over time, and refine by age.

Our Fathers in the past planted in the Church the good seed of faith. It would be most unfair and unseemly if we, their descendants, instead of the authentic truth of grain, should reap the counterfeit error of weeds. On the contrary, from doctrine which was sown as wheat, we should reap, in the increase, the wheat of dogma, so that when in the process of time any of the original seed is developed, and now flourishes under cultivation, this is cause for joy. There may be changes in shape, form, variation in outward appearance, but the nature of each kind must remain the same. God forbid that those rose-beds of Catholic interpretation should be converted into thorns and thistles.

Therefore, whatever has been sown by the fidelity of the Fathers in this husbandry of God's Church, the same ought to be cultivated and taken care of by the industry of their children, the same ought to flourish and ripen, the same ought to advance and go forward to perfection. For it is right that those ancient doctrines of heavenly philosophy should, as time goes on, be cared for, smoothed, polished; but not that they should be changed, not that they should be maimed, not that they should be mutilated. They may receive proof, illustration, definiteness; but they must retain withal their completeness, their integrity, their characteristic properties. For if once this license of impious fraud be admitted, I dread to say in how great danger religion will be of being utterly destroyed and annihilated. For if any one part of Catholic truth be given up, another, and another, and another will thenceforward be given up as a matter of course, and the several individual portions having been rejected, what will follow in the end but the rejection of the whole?

If what is new begins to be mingled with what is old, the profane with the sacred, this disorder will spread universally, till at last the Church will have nothing remaining intact, nothing unchanged, nothing sound, nothing unblemished. Where formerly there was a sanctuary of chaste and undefiled truth, thenceforward there will be a brothel of impious and shameful errors. May God's mercy avert this wickedness from the minds of His servants; be it rather the frenzy of the ungodly. The Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in her charge, never changes anything in them, never diminishes, never adds, does not cut off what is necessary, does not add what is superfluous, does not lose her own, and does not appropriate what is another's.

Finally, what other object have Councils ever aimed at in their decrees, than to provide that what was before believed in simplicity should in future be believed intelligently, that what was before preached coldly should in future be preached earnestly, that what was before practiced negligently should thenceforward be practised with double solicitude? This, I say, is what the Catholic Church, roused by the novelties of divisions, has accomplished by the decrees of her Councils -- this, and nothing else -- she has thenceforward consigned to posterity in writing what she had received from those ancient days only by tradition, comprising a great amount of matter in a few words, and often, for the better understanding, designating an old article of the faith by the characteristic of a new name.