04 March 2006

Scripture & Tradition II

No doubt, there are many readers to this blog who have heard of the Vicentian rule: Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus ("that which is [held/believed] everywhere, always, by all"). It is named after St Vincent of Lerins who coined the phrase. It's really a take-off on St. Peter's rule; namely, "that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Pt 1.20). Very simply, this means that your opinion of what the Bible means must be sacrificed in favor of the Church's consensus.

Such a rule is quite helpful, especially in the face of those who have nearly (or truly have) equalized sola Scriptura and nuda Scriptura. The first means that nothing of the Faith can contradict the Holy Scriptures, and that all teachings or doctrines must, in some way, be witnessed or attested to in the Scriptures. The latter phrase may be said (if a bit snidely) to be the "Bible, Bible, only Bible" rule.

I thought it might be helpful to produce the immediate context in which St Vincent of Lerins advances his rule; and why he comes to it. At least, I found this review of his writing to be most fascinating.

I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.

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.

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. (Source)


William Weedon said...

Wonderful! I confess to my shame that I have not read St. Vincent before - you have whetted my appetite for the rest of the document! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

St. Vincent was also a defender of the views of St. John Cassian on grace (Conference XIII), over and against the errors of a tactfully unnamed near contemporary of his: Bishop Augustine of Hippo Rhegius in North Africa.