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Schoolmen, the Reformers, their Successors, the Nonconformists, the Divines at the Restoration and Revolution, and those of Modern Times.
The title of Fathers is variously extended or limited, and is made to include by some, only writers to the fourth or fifth century, and by others, writers to the twelfth or thirteenth. We would here take in its largest acceptation. We have but few remains of the first ages
of the church; as it has been beautifully remarked “to believe, to suffer, to love, not to write, was the primitive taste.' Yet those remains which we have, áre too valuable to be neglected. Milner, one well competent to judge, observes · Ecclesiastical antiquity has been too much depreciated in our times, and students in divinity have been discouraged from the study of the Fathers. In truth, a selection of them ought to be made : to praise or dispraise the primitive writers in general, is obviously absurd.'1
Archbishop Usher's advice to young students was, not to spend too much time in Epitomes, but to set themselves to read the ancient authors themselves : to begin with the Fathers, and to read them according to the ages in which they lived (which was the method he had taken himself), and, together with them, carefully to peruse the Church historians that treated of that age in which those Fathers lived ; by which means the student would be better able to perceive the reason and meaning of passages in their writings, which would otherwise be obscure, when he knew the original and growth of those heresies and heterodox opinions they wrote against ; and might also better judge what doctrines, cere
It is a sad mistake to give the Fathers a kind of divine authority, of which their often fanciful interpretation of the scriptures, and grossly contradictory explanations, renders them unworthy. The Hon. Robert Boyle justly observes of them, Generally they were worthy men, and highly to be regarded as the grand witnesses of the doctrines and government of the Ancient Churches ; most of them very pious, many of them very eloquent, and some of them (especially the two critics, Origen and Jerome) very learned ; yet so few of the Greek Fathers were skilled in Hebrew, and so few of the Latin Fathers either in Hebrew or Greek, that many of their homilies, and even comments leave hard texts as obscure as they found them; and sometimes, misled by bad translations, they give them senses exceeding wide of the true. So that many times in their writings they appear to be far better divines than commentators, and in an excellent discourse upon a text you will find but a very poor exposition of it.'
The sentiments of our Reformers on the Fathers are worth recording. When Bishop Cox, in 1562, heard of Queen Elizabeth's studying them, he wrote to Cecil, her secretary, · When all was done, the scripture is that that pierceth. Chrysostom and the Greek Fathers Pelagianizant (favour Pelagius), sometimes Bernard monachizat (is for monkery); and he
monies and opinions prevailed in the Church in every age, and by what means introduced.'-Parr's Life, p. 97.
We should rather recommend, however, the reading of the early historians of the Church, and the best subsequent histories, than the almost impracticable task of following Usher in his gigantic theological studies of all the Fathers.
meddled with them but at spare hours.' 1
Bishop Jewell, in reply to Harding, shows that Ambrose quoted the preceding Fathers, not as grounds, or principles, or foundations of the faith, but only as interpreters, or witnesses, or consenters to the faith, which Protestants never denied. 2
In the canons of the Church of England, passed in 1571, is a charge (see Sparrow's collection, p. 237.) that preachers teach nothing to be religiously held by the people, except that which is agreeable to the doctrine of both testaments, and what has been deduced from that very doctrine by the catholic Fathers and ancient Bishops.' A due attention to this canon would lead all clergymen more diligently to study the early Fathers, and surely some knowledge of them may reasonably be expected from those whose express office it is to maintain and defend religion.
Witsius, in his True Theologian, speaking of some of the Fathers as widely shining lights of the primitive church, adds, Whose knowledge consisted not in acute subtleties of curious questions, but in devout contemplation of God and His Christ: whose simple and chaste manner of teaching will not sooth prurient ears, but impressing on the mind the character of sacred things, will inflame the soul with the love of them: whose blameless innocence of manners, answering to their profession, and praised even by their enemies, fortified their doctrine with irrefragable evidence, and was an evident sign of their familiar intercourse with the most holy Deity. In his Essay
· Strype's Annals, Vol. i. 541.
on the efficacy of the Baptism of Infants, he thus farther expresses his sentiments, in his usual spirit of Christian love and wisdom : • I am not pleased to discuss their errors with severity, which I see is the manner of some writers now, who labour with so mad an itch and so varied an outcry of condemnation, that they defile their paper on every occasion, and even without occasion, with the faults of the Fathers. I think that that reverence is due to the Fathers of the Church, eminentlý merited by their diligence, zeal, and example, that we should pass by their blemishes in their other virtues. At the same time, it is not to be dissembled, that they have often unhappily discussed things of the greatest moment, and frequently admit expressions which, unless softened by the most kind interpretation, give a very hard sense.'
Dr. Chalmers, in his sermon on the respect due to antiquity, adopting Lord Bacon's sentiment, that the time in which we now live is the ancient time, yet happily discriminates, by showing that “as we are only wiser because of the now larger book of experience which is in our hands, we are not so to scorn antiquity as to cast that book
but we are to learn from antiquity, by giving that book our most assiduous perusal, while at the same time we sit in the exercise of our free and independent judgment over its contents.' 1
? It would be easy to enlarge this section, by useful quotations from others; but the Author would rather add references to the original works. At the end of Melancthon's Exposition on the 14th of the Romans, he gives some important and valuable re. marks upon the respective Fathers, under the head, ' De Ecclesiticis Scriptoribus Vetustis.'' He dwells on Origen, Dionysius, Ter
· See his Works, Vol. iii. p. 1052—1075.
The Author has selected these observations of others because his own studies do not justify him in saying much on this section. As far as they have gone, he is disposed to consider that Christian students would find it profitable to read the Fathers more than is now ordinarily done. Daille, in his treatise on their right use ; Barbeyrac on their morals; Whitby, in his book on their interpretation of the scriptures; and Edwards, in his Patrologia; have abundantly shown their failings and contradictions ; and notwithstanding Scrivener, Reeves, and other attempts to answer Daille, yet it has been sufficiently proved how incompetent their writings are to form an unerring rule of judgment respecting divine truth. Have they not been studied rather controversially than practically, and thence the study may have comparatively been unfruitful as to real edification. Milner has led us to a better plan of reading them. Their testimony to the Holy
tullian, Cyprian, Basil, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory. Luther's View of the Fathers, in his own strongest style (if we may receive the Table Talk as conveying his just sentiments), is worth referring to. See chap. xxvi. and xxix. of that work. Some discriminating views of the style and character of the Fathers are given by Erasmus, in his Epistles, Lib. xxviii. p. 1148, 1149; though we should not look to him for just views of writers on doctrinal subjects. Some useful hints, from different authors, are gathered together by Leigh, in his Body of Divinity, p. 112-114. He quotes extracts from Erasmus' Epistles. Bishop Wilkins gives Erasmus' character of the Fathers, in his Gift of Preaching, p. 124. Jewell's Defence of his Apology, p. 59–64. is also well worth consulting. He shows the opinions which the Fathers entertained of each other, to confute the vain pretensions of the Romanists, who would ascribe to them an undue authority in matters of faith. Luther says, “ Austin always has had the pre-eminence, the second in esteem was Ambrose, Bernard the third. When Bernard preaches, then he is above all the teachers; but when he disputés, then he is altogether another man: there he gives too much to the precept and free will. Cyril has the best sentences. Theophylact is the best expounder of St. Paul.