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one of these councils. He observes that all its proceedings are taken in due form and order. The synod is duly summoned by the emperor, in the name of the Trinity, and is attended by all the chief patriarchs, and by a great body of bishops. It consults, decides, and leaves its decrees on record, as laws, from that time forth, of the Universal Church.
Is he implicitly to yield obedience to these decrees?
“ Yes,” says Mr. Palmer, “the judgment of such an assembly “ is absolutely binding on him, from the moment of its full mani“ festation.”
No,” says Mr. Perceval, “ for the claim of a synod to the « estimation of a General Council, depends entirely upon the “ general or universal reception of its decrees by the Catholic “ Church.” And whether the decrees of this particular synod will be "generally received," is what no one can attempt beforehand to predict. Nor will the point be speedily decided; for, as we have just seen, long periods of years passed away before the decrees of what is now called the second general council, were universally recognized.
Between these opposing notions, what is the perplexed Christian to do. The one declares the decrees to be “absolutely binding,” the other asserts them to have no force, until their general reception shall be fully ascertained ;-a fact which may be in doubt for half a century !
Was any system so absurd, so utterly self-contradictory, ever before put forth by grave divines? In what, but the chaos of inconsistencies which it is the fashion to call “Church principles," could so preposterous a scheme be even propounded ? Imagine for a moment, the endeavour to apply the like theory in other branches of ethics. The secular legislature has enacted certain laws, according to the powers vested in it for such purposes. Of course, therefore, to one who owns obedience to the divine precept, "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake,” these laws must be absolutely binding," so far as they trench not on a still higher authority. But no, we must see, first, whether they will be generally submitted to, before we resolve to yield them obedience! Or, again,-a man has married a wife, and of course is “absolutely bound” to cleave to her for life. Not at all; that must depend upon whether, after being generally introduced to his kindred and friends, she shall secure their favourable suffrage! Why! all this would be monstrous ;—but not one whit more so than Mr. Perceval's gravely-propounded theory, of making the validity of the decrees of councils, said to meet under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, depend upon what those who should
receive the law at their hands, might subsequently happen to think of their decisions. The result of such a system must plainly be this,--that the predominant party in the Church at large, the party which could get its opinions decreed in council, and afterwards submitted to by the people in general,-must always be taken to be right. Practically this would be of little moment, for majorities are generally apt to have their own way, in some shape or other. But the gist of the whole theory is, to add to the mere force of a majority, the sanction of infallibility,- the assumption of the guidance of the Holy Ghost. “To suppose that the universal Church could determine what is contrary to the gospel,-would be inconsistent with the promise of Christ himself, “The Spirit of truth shall abide with you for ever.”! And out of this assumption comes absolute domination over the conscience, and the right of persecution, with all its attendant horrors.
We see, then, what is the real drift of this strenuous effort, to establish the authority of “the first four,” or “the first six councils." As a general principle, the Tractarians will strain every nerve to procure the admission of any single thing besides the Bible, into the Rule of Faith. They urge “Scripture and Tradition." If we object to the vagueness of the term “Tradition,' - they will compound for “ Scripture and the early Fathers ;” or “Scripture and the first six councils, or even “ Scripture and the creeds." Let them only get the thin end of the wedge inserted, and all that they desire must follow. Suppose an incautious Protestant admits the authority of the first four councils, or is careless as to disputing the point, because he sees no harm in their decisions ;—very soon he will find the next step urged ;-"you have admitted that what these early fathers and bishops did in council, is binding upon the Church even down to the present time ;—why, then, refuse to listen to what those same men wrote, in their homilies and other treatises ? » Such is the argument of the eighty-fifth Tract, which pleads, "unless you allow these centuries to be tolerably free from doctrinal corruptions, I conceive, you cannot use them as evidence of the canonicity of the Old and New Testament, as we have them ; but if consider the fourth and fifth centuries enlightened enough to decide on the canon, I want to know why you call them not enlightened in doctrine ” ?
From this obvious risk, of being drawn in to admit some kind of an addition to God's word,—there is but one way of safety, and that is found in the rule which Athanasius himself prescribes : “ If ye
will · Palmer's Treatise on the Church, vol. ii.
» Tracts for the Times, No. 85, p. 105.
speak anything besides that which is written, why do ye contend with us, who are determined neither to hear nor to speak anything but that which is WRITTEN. The Lord himself says, If ye continue in my word, ye are truly free.”i Or, as Augustine describes it, “ There are undoubtedly books of the Lord, whose authority both of us acknowledge, which we mutually believe and obey. There let us seek the Church, there let us discuss our cause.
Let us lay aside what we bring from other sources. Read to us from the law, the prophets, the psalms, the gospel, and the apostolic writings ;read, and we will believe.” .
To escape from this simple and inconvenient rule, which they call “the ultra-Protestant saying, of Scripture only,” is the unceasing effort of the Tractarian party. Happily for us, under the kind providence of God, our English Church lends them no aid in this matter. Wonderful is it, to any one who reflects on the dangers and temptations which surrounded our Reformers, to see how singularly they were preserved from all taint, on this, as well as on other vital points. The Percevals and Puseys anxiously search for some little evidence to prove that the Church of England acknowledges the councils. But what do they find ? Two vague and general expressions !-one in an homily, and one in an act of parliament, constitute the whole. Not a fragment besides can they discover, and these two are utterly unavailing, on their own principles.
The homily on Peril of Idolatry has these words : “ Those six councils which were allowed and received of all men." Granted : But will the Tractarians themselves consent to be bound by all the assertions of the Book of Homilies? Will they, for instance, subscribe to the language of the second part of the Homily for Whitsunday, touching their favorite pope, Gregory the VII. «Shall we
say that he had God's Holy Spirit within him, and not rather the
spirit of the devil ? Such a tyrant was Pope Hildebrand, most “ worthy to be called a firebrand,” &c. Or, when, in the same homily, on Peril of Idolatry, which Mr. Perceval quotes, Rome is spoken of as “the idolatrous Church,” “a foul, filthy, withered harlot,” &c?
No, says Mr. Palmer, when alluding to these very passages, “these expressions are only used obiter, and not in the way of formal doctrine or definition; therefore we are in no way bound to them in every point.” 3
Well, gentlemen, if you refuse, as we knew you would, to be bound by every single statement which is found in the book of
1 Athanas, de Incarnat. Christ. (Paris, 1627.) ? August. de unitate Eccles. (Paris, 1694) c. 3, p. 341.
3 Treatise on the Church, vol. i. p. 307.
Homilies, you must allow us the same liberty. Dr. Pusey must not tell us, that “our Church of old formally accepted the six “ æcumenical councils, except he is prepared to admit also, that our Church of old formally declared, “whole Christendom to have “ been at once drowned in abominable idolatry for the
space " eight hundred
» Rome to be “ not the true Church of Christ;” and the bishop of Rome to be “Antichrist.” ?
Unless, in fact, the Tractarians really mean to accept the Homilies, not only in the mass, as "containing a godly and wholesome doctrine,” but strictly and entirely, taking every sentence as a sentence in a creed, and yielding their entire and full assent to the reasonings as well as to the conclusions, -except, we say, they mean to yield this full assent themselves, they must not seek to bind us by every casual expression in that book, nor must they assert, on the strength of such expressions, that “the Church has formally accepted the six æcumenical councils,” or any of them.
We pass on, then, to the act of parliament,—the only other document upon which such an assertion can be founded.
This statute, 1 Elizabeth, c. 1. $ 36, is placed by Mr. Perceval in the very front of his argument. He quotes the clause upon which he relies, which merely declares, that no judge or other authority in matters spiritual, shall determine anything to be heresy, save such things as have been “adjudged to be heresy, “ by the authority of the canonical scriptures, or by the first four “ general councils," &c., &c.
Thus it is quite clear, that in the first hurry of settling Church and State at the very opening of Elizabeth's reign, the framer of one of the statutes did use an expression, recognizing in some sort “ the first four general councils.”
But what is the stress which Mr. Perceval and Dr. Pusey would lay upon this clause in a civil enactment? Do they mean to say, that all acts of parliament speak the mind of the Church? Or that he who would know the sense of the Church on any point, must seek it in the Statute-Book? Or that the clergy of the Church are committed to all and every the declarations which may be found in that voluminous collection ?
We beg to submit to Mr. Perceval a clause or two of a far more recent date than the first of Elizabeth, and to ask him, whether he considers himself in any way involved in their declarations ?
5 Anne, c. 8. § 25. “Her majesty, with advice and con“sent of the estates of parliament, expressly provides and declares, “That the foresaid true Protestant religion, contained in the " above-mentioned (Westminster) Confession of Faith, with the Homily on Peril of Idolatry, part iii.
· Homily on Obedience, part iii. JUNE, 1842.
“ form and purity of worship presently in use within this church “ (of Scotland), and its Presbyterian church government and
discipline, shall remain and continue unalterable, and that the “ said Presbyterian government shall be the only government of “ the Church within the kingdom of Scotland.”
40 Geo. III. c. 69. “In like manner the doctrine, worship,
discipline, and Government of the Church of Scotland, shall re“ main and be preserved as the same are now established by law."
Thus, then, if Acts of Parliament are to be the standard, and if the members of the Church are to be held concluded by them,we find ourselves all,--Dr. Pusey, Mr. Perceval, Mr. Newman, &c. not excepted, -expressly declaring our assent to Presbyterianism and the Westminster confession!
But against any such conclusion the Tractarians will stoutly protest. They will maintain, and truly, that Acts of Parliament are framed by statesmen, not by ecclesiastics, and that any one who should endeavour to compile a system of theology out of the statute-book, would inevitably find himself involved in a chaos of contradictory enactments.
Neither of these two attempts, then, to commit the Church to the first six councils, or to any of them, can succeed. She recognizes them in her homilies, only in the same manner, and with the same authority, as she declares Rome to be “idolatrous," "a withered harlot,” “Antichrist, ” &c. And their authority is placed, in the act of Elizabeth, only on the same footing as the Protestant religion, the Presbyterian form of church government, and the Westminster Confession,—all of which were thus recognized in a British parliament,--of which the whole episcopacy of England were assenting members !
Clear, then, of all committal of herself to the old “ecclesiastical decisions,”—is the Church of England. The attempt to establish the fact of her adherence to them, utterly fails. Earnestly, indeed, do Messrs. Perceval, Palmer, and Pusey labour to find some little fragment, however minute, upon which to rest their claim,—but all their efforts are in vain. The writer of a homily may have spoken of the early writers as “those godly fathers,” or have described the first centuries as “the most pure " in the Church's history, or have alluded to the first six councils as having been “allowed and received of all men.” But what then? Place before Mr. Palmer other expressions in that same homily, and he replies “these are
only used obiter, and we are in no way bound to them.” The conclusion is obvious, “With the same measure that ye mete, it shall be measured by you again.” Neither to the Fathers nor to the Councils is the Church of England committed, even in the