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A principle which especially characterises the Church of England, and distinguishes her from every other reformed communion, is her marked and avowed adherence to the Catholic faith as received in the primitive and purest ages of Christianity. She has acted on this universally acknowledged truth, that whatsoever is new in the fundamentals of religion, must be false. On this ground, and believing that in the earliest ages the great truths of Christianity were known to, and plainly professed by the Church, she (as is said by a late most eminent and pious prelate) "in the first instance, and as her grand foundation, derives all obligatory matter of faith, that is, to use her own expression, all that is to be believed for necessity of salvation,' from the Scripture alone: and herein she differs from the Church of Rome. But she systematically resorts to the concurrent sense of the Church Catholic, both for assistance in the interpretation of the sacred text, and for guidance in those matters of religion, which the text has left at large and herein she differs from every reformed communion a."
This peculiarity of our Church, though known
a DR. JEBB, Bishop of Limerick. Church of England.
Peculiar character of the
and ground of divine service; saying," There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted: As among other things it may plainly appear by the Common Prayers in the Church, commonly called Divine Service. The first original and ground whereof, if a man would search out by the ancient Fathers, he shall find, that the same was not ordained but for a good purpose, and for a great advancement of godliness."
Again, in the next paragraph of the same Preface, we are told, that the "godly and decent order of the Fathers hath been altered, broken, and neglected:" and presently we read concerning the Book of Common Prayer itself,. "here you have an order for Prayer, and for the reading of the Holy Scripture, much agreeable to the mind and purpose of the old Fathers "
Such then being the rule for the interpretation of Scripture, which our Church has imposed upon her clergy, and she, in the ordering of her Public Services, having followed the pattern of the primitive Churches, so far as the difference of circumstances, times, and manners would admit; it is worth while to enquire, Secondly, into the grounds of her having shewn such deference to antiquity.
And here, were I to begin by asserting the authority of the Church, and to insist on that
In proof of this I must again refer, as I have elsewhere done, to the Rev. W. PALMER'S Antiquities of the English Ritual.
principle, that the Church is the proper interpreter of Holy Writ, a principle, which until the Reformation was never questioned, though in practice, and from the corruptions which for some centuries+ before had been creeping into the Church, it had been utterly perverted-were. I to insist on this principle, the truth would come in a shape so objectionable to many amongst us, that, in the heat of opposition, even that credit, which cannot reasonably be denied to the Fathers by the most determined latitudinarian, would be withheld from them.
If then we waive, for the present, the question of authority, and consider the Fathers only in the light of witnesses, we cannot but admit that they are the best witnesses of the doctrines taught, and the discipline introduced by the Apostles.
The credibility of their testimony will depend on their "ability and integrity; their ability in the knowledge of that which they deliver and assert: their integrity in delivering and asserting according to their knowledge e."
First, then, as to their ability.
It must be admitted that the immediate successors of the Apostles, and those who constantly conversed with them, and were by them set over the Churches which they established, must have known all that was necessary to be believed unto salvation and conversely that whatsoever was not known to them, cannot be necessary to be known or believed. It cannot be doubted that the Apostles explained by word of mouth to the early
e PEARSON, on the Creed, Art, i.