For Our Time, For This Time,
Commintory, St. Vincent of Lerins (early 5th Century Anno Domini)
“A General Rule for distinguishing the Truth of the Catholic Faith from the Falsehood of Heretical Pravity.
“[4.] 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.
“[6.] 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 Catholics, 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.
“What is to be done if one or more dissent from the rest.
“[7.] What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have 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.
“The evil resulting from the bringing in of Novel Doctrine shown in the instances of the Donatists and Arians.
“[9.] But that we may make what we say more intelligible, we must illustrate it by individual examples, and enlarge upon it somewhat more fully, lest by aiming at too great brevity important matters be hurried over and lost sight of.
“In the time of Donatus, from whom his followers were called Donatists, when great numbers in Africa were rushing headlong into their own mad error, and unmindful of their name, their religion, their profession, were preferring the sacriligeous temerity of one man before the Church of Christ, then they alone throughout Africa were safe within the sacred precincts of the Catholic faith, who, detesting the profane schism, continued in communion with the universal Church, leaving to posterity an illustrious example, how, and how well in future the soundness of the whole body should be preferred before the madness of one, or at most of a few.
“[10.] So also when the Arian poison had infected not an insignificant portion of the Church but almost the whole world, so that a sort of blindness had fallen upon almost all the bishops of the Latin tongue, circumvented partly by force partly by fraud, and was preventing them from seeing what was most expedient to be done in the midst of so much confusion, then whoever was a true lover and worshipper of Christ, preferring the ancient belief to the novel misbelief, escaped the pestilent infection.
“[11.] By the peril of which time was abundantly shown how great a calamity the introduction of a novel doctrine causes. For then truly not only interests of small account, but others of the very gravest importance, were subverted. For not only affinities, relationships, friendships, families, but moreover, cities, peoples, provinces, nations, at last the whole Roman Empire, were shaken to their foundation and ruined. For when this same profane Arian novelty, like a Bellona or a Fury, had first taken captive the Emperor,and had then subjected all the principal persons of the palace to new laws, from that time it never ceased to involve everything in confusion, disturbing all things, public and private, sacred and profane, paying no regard to what was good and true, but, as though holding a position of authority, smiting whomsoever it pleased. Then wives were Then wives were violated, widows ravished, virgins profaned, monasteries demolished, clergymen ejected, the inferior clergy scourged, priests driven into exile, jails, prisons, mines, filled with saints, of whom the greater part, forbidden to enter into cities, thrust forth from their homes to wander in deserts and caves, among rocks and the haunts of wild beasts, exposed to nakedness, hunger, thirst, were worn out and consumed. Of all of which was there any other cause than that, while human superstitions are being brought in to supplant heavenly doctrine, while well established antiquity is being subverted by wicked novelty, while the institutions of former ages are being set at naught, while the decrees of our fathers are being rescinded, while the determinations of our ancestors are being torn in pieces, the lust of profane and novel curiosity refuses to restrict itself within the most chaste limits of hallowed and uncorrupt antiquity?
“[20.] But to return to the matter in hand: It behooves us then to have a great dread of the crime of perverting the faith and adulterating religion, a crime from which we are deterred not only by the Church’s discipline, but also by the censure of authority. Fore very one knows how gravely, how severely, how vehemently, the blessed apostle Paul inveighs against certain, who, with marvellous levity, had been so soon removed from him who had called them to the grace of Christ to another Gospel, which was not another; Galatians 1:6 who had heaped to themselves teachers after their own lusts, turning away their ears from the truth, and being turned aside unto fables; 2 Timothy 4:3-4 having damnation because they had cast off their first faith; 1 Timothy 5:12 who had been deceived by those of whom the same apostle writes to the Roman Christians, Now, I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not the Lord Christ, but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple, Romans 16:17-18 who enter into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with diverse lusts, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth; 2 Timothy 3:6 vain talkers and deceivers, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake; Titus 1:10 men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith; 2 Timothy 3:8 proud knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, destitute of the truth, supposing that godliness is gain, 1 Timothy 6:4 withal learning to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle, but tattlers also and busy-bodies, speaking things which they ought not, 1 Timothy 5:13 who having put away a good conscience have made shipwreck concerning the faith; 1 Timothy 1:19 whose profane and vain babblings increase unto more ungodliness, and their word does eat as does a cancer. 2 Timothy 2:16-17 Well, also, is it written of them: But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was. 2 Timothy 3:9
Part II to follow.