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as charity, and therefore consists in liberty and choice, and hath nothing in it of necessity: there is no question but that they are obliged to proceed according to some rule ; for they expect no assistance by way of enthusiasm ; if they should, I know no warrant for that, neither did any general council ever offer a decree which they did not think sufficiently proved by Scripture, reason, or tradition, as appears in the acts of the councils ; now then, if they be tied to conditions, it is their duty to observe them; but whether it be certain that they will observe them, that they will do all their duty, that they will not sin even in this particular in the neglect of their duty, that is the consideration. So that if any man questions the title and authority of general councils, and whether or no great promises appertain to them, I suppose him to be much mistaken; but he also that thinks all of them have proceeded according to rule and reason, and that none of them were deceived, because possibly they might have been truly directed,—is a stranger to the history of the church, and to the perpetual instances and experiments of the faults and failings of humanity. It is a famous saying of St. Gregory, that he had the four first councils in esteem and veneration next to the four evangelists; I suppose it was because he did believe them to have proceeded according to rule, and to have judged righteous judgment; but why had not he the same opinion of other councils too, which were celebrated before his death, (for he lived after the fifth general)? not because they had not the same authority; for that which is warrant for one, is warrant for all ; but because he was not so confident that they did their duty, nor proceeded so without interest as the first four had done, and the following councils did never get that reputation, which all the catholic church acknowledged due to the first four. And in the next order were the three following generals ; for the Greeks and Latins did never jointly acknowledge but seven generals to have been authentic in any sense, because they were in no sense agreed that any more than seven had proceeded regularly, and done their duty: so that now the question is not whether general councils have a promise that the Holy Ghost will assist them; for every private man hath that promise, that if he does his duty, he shall be assisted sufficiently in order to that end to
which he needs assistance; and therefore much more shall general councils, in order to that end for which they convene, and to which they need assistance, that is, in order to the conservation of the faith, for the doctrinal rules of good life, and all that concerns the essential duty of a Christian, but not in deciding questions to satisfy contentious, or curious, or presumptuous spirits. But now can the bishops so convened be factious,-can they be abused with prejudice, or transported with interests,-can they resist the Holy Ghost,can they extinguish the Spirit,-can they stop their ears, and serve themselves upon the Holy Spirit and the pretence of his assistances; and cease to serve them upon themselves, by captivating their understandings to his dictates, and their wills to his precepts? Is it necessary they should perform any condition? is there any one duty for them to perform in these assemblies, a duty which they have power to do or not to do? If so, then they may fail of it, and not do their duty: and if the assistance of the Holy Spirit be conditional, then we have no more assurance that they are assisted, than that they do their duty, and do not sin.
2. Now let us suppose what this duty is : certainly, 'if the gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost ;' and all that come to the knowledge of the truth, must come to it by such means which are spiritual and holy dispositions, in order to a holy and spiritual end. They must be 'shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,' that is, they must have peaceable and docible dispositions, nothing with them that is violent and resolute to encounter those gentle and sweet assistances : and the rule they are to follow, is the rule which the Holy Spirit hath consigned to the catholic church, that is, the Holy Scripture, either entirely', or at least for the greater part of the rule : so that now if the bishops be factious and prepossessed with persuasions depending upon interest, it is certain they may judge amiss; and if they recede from the rule, it is certain they do judge amiss: and this I say upon their grounds who most advance the authority of general councils : for if a general council may err if a Pope confirm it not, then most certainly if in any thing it recede from Scripture, it does also err; because that they are to expect the Pope's confirmation they
Vid. Oplat. Milev. I. 5. adv. Parm. Baldvin. in eundem. et S. August. in ps. 21. Expos. 2.
offer to prove from Scripture : now if the Pope's confirmation be required by authority of Scripture, and that therefore the defailance of it does evacuate the authority of the council, then also are the councils' decrees invalid, if they recede from any other part of Scripture : so that Scripture is the rule they are to follow, and a man would have thought it had been needless to have proved it, but that we are fallen into ages in which no truth is certain, no reason concluding, nor is there any thing that can convince some men. For Stapleton', with extreme boldness against the piety of Christendom, against the public sense of the ancient church, and the practice of all pious assemblies of bishops, affirms the decrees of a council to be binding, “Etiamsi non confirmetur ne probabili testimonio Scripturarum;" nay, though it be quite extra Scripturam;' but all wise and good men have ever said that sense which St. Hilary expressed in these words, ' Quæ extra evangelium sunt, non defendam ;” this was it which the good emperor Constantine propounded to the fathers met at Nice ;“ Libri Evangelici, oracula apostolorum, et veterum prophetarum clare nos instruunt quid sentiendum in divinis'.” And this is confessed by a sober man of the Roman church itself, the cardinal of Cusa; “ Oportet quod omnia talia quæ legere debent, contineantur in autoritatibus sacrarum Scripturarum“.” Now then all the advantage I shall take from hence, is this, that if the Apostles commended them who examined their sermons by their conformity to the law and the prophets, and the men of Berea were account. ed "noble for searching the Scriptures, whether those things which they taught, were so or no;" I suppose it will not be denied, but the councils' decrees may also be tried whether they be conform to Scripture, yea or no; and although no man can take cognizance and judge the decrees of a council
pro autoritate publica,' yet 'pro informatione privata, ' they may; the authority of a council is not greater than the authority of the apostles, nor their dictates more sacred or authentic. Now then put case a council should recede from Scripture; whether or no were we bound to believe its decrees? I only ask the question: for it were hard to be bound to believe what to our understanding seems contrary to that
• Relect. controv. 4. q. 1. a. 3.
u Concord, Cathol. 1. 2. c. 10.
which we know to be the word of God: but if we may lawfully recede from the councils' decrees, in case they be contrariant to Scripture, it is all that I require in this question. For if they be tied to a rule, then they are to be exainined and understood according to the rule, and then we are to give ourselves that liberty of judgment which is requisite to distinguish us from beasts, and to put us into a capacity of reasonable people, following reasonable guides. But however, if it be certain that the councils are to follow Scripture, then if it be notorious that they do recede from Scripture, we are sure we must obey God rather than men, and then we are well enough. For unless we are bound to shut our eyes, and not to look upon the sun, if we may give ourselves liberty to, believe what seems most plain, and unless the authority of a council be so great a prejudice as to make us to do violence to our understanding, so as not to disbelieve the decree, because it seems contrary to Scripture, but to believe it agrees with Scripture, though we know not how, therefore because the council hath decreed it, -unless, I say, we be bound in duty to be so obediently blind and sottish, we are sure that there are some councils which are pretended general, that have retired from the public notorious words and sense of Scripture. For what wit of man can reconcile the decree of the thirteenth session of the council of Constance with Scripture, in which session the half communion was decreed, in defiance of Scripture, and with a 'non obstante' to Christ's institution. For in the preface of the decree, Christ's institution, and the practice of the primitive church are expressed, and then, with a' non obstante,' communion in one kind is esta-. blished. Now then suppose the ' non obstante' in the form of words relates to the primitive practice, yet since Christ's, institution was taken notice of in the first words of the decree, and the decree made quite contrary to it, let the ‘non obstante' relate whither it will, the decree (not to call it a defiance) is a plain recession from the institution of Christ, and, therefore the 'non obstante' will refer to that without any sensible error; and, indeed, for all the excuses to the contrary, the decree was not so discreetly framed, but that, in the very form of words, the defiance and the 'non obstante' are too plainly relative to the first words. For what sense can there else be in the first licet ;' licet Christus in utraque
specie,” and “ licet ecclesia primitiva," etc. “ tamen hoc non obstante," etc. the first licet being a relative term, as well as the second ‘licet,' must be bounded with some correspondent. But it matters not much; let them whom it concerns, enjoy the benefit of all excuses they can imagine, it is certain Christ's institution and the council's sanction are as contrary as light and darkness.—Is it possible for any man to contrive a way to make the decree of the council of Trent, commanding the public offices of the church to be in Latin, friends with the fourteenth chapter of the Corinthians ? It is not amiss to observe how the hyperaspists of that council sweat to answer the allegations of St. Paul; and the wisest of them do it so extremely poor, that it proclaims to all the world that the strongest man that is, cannot eat iron, or swallow a rock. Now then, would it not be an unspeakable tyranny to all wise persons (who as much hate to have their souls enslaved as their bodies imprisoned), to command them to believe, that these decrees are agreeable to the word of God ? Upon whose understanding soever these are imposed, they may at the next session reconcile them to a crime, and make any sin sacred, or persuade him to believe propositions contradictory to a mathematical demonstration. All the arguments in the world, that can be brought to prove the infallibility of councils, cannot make it so certain that they are infallible, as these two instances do prove infallibly that these were deceived; and if ever we may safely make use of our reason, and consider whether councils have erred or no, we cannot by any reason be more assured, that they have or have not, than we have in these particulars : so that, either our reason is of no manner of use, in the discussion of this question, and the thing itself is not at all to be disputed, or if it be, we are certain that these actually were deceived, and we must never hope for a clearer evidence in any dispute. And if these be, others might have been, if they did as these did, that is, depart from their rule. And it was wisely said of Cusanus, " Notandum est experimento rerum universale concilium posse deficere*:" The experience of it is notorious, that councils have erred : and all the arguments against experience are but plain sophistry. 3. And therefore I make no scruple to slight the decrees
* Lib. 2. e. 14. Concord. Cathol.