At Antioch, in which city the noble surname of Christians first became common, there flourished Doctors, that is, eminent theologians, and Prophets, that is, very celebrated preachers (Acts xiii. 1). Of this sort were the scribes and wise men, learned in the kingdom of God, bringing forth new things and old (Matth. xiii. 52; xxiii. 34), knowing Christ and Moses, whom the Lord promised to His future flock. What a wicked thing it is to scout these teachers, given as they are by way of a mighty boon! The adversary has scouted them. Why? Because their standing means his fall. Having found that out for certain beyond doubt, I have asked for a fight unqualified, not that sham-fight in which the crowds in the street engage, and skirmish with one another, but the earnest and keen struggle in which we join in the arena of yon philosophers,
Foot to foot, and man close gripping man.
If ever we shall be allowed to turn to the Fathers, the battle is lost and won: they are as thoroughly ours as is Gregory XIII. himself, the loving Father of the children of the Church. To say nothing of isolated passages, which are gathered from the records of the ancients, apt and clear statements in defence of our faith, we hold entire volumes of these Fathers, which professedly illustrate in clear and abundant light the Gospel religion which we defend. Take the twofold Hierarchy of the martyr Dionysius, what classes, what sacrifices, what rites does he teach? This fact struck Luther so forcibly that he pronounced the works of this Father to be “such stuff as dreams are made of, and that of the most pernicious kind.” In imitation of his parent, an obscure Frenchman, Caussee, has not hesitated to call this Dionysius, the Apostle of an illustrious nation, “an old dotard.” Ignatius has given grievous offence to the Centuriators of Magdeburg, as also to Calvin, so that these men, the offscouring of mankind, have noted in his works “unsightly blemishes and tasteless prosings.” In their judgment, Irenaeus has brought out “a fanatical production”: Clement, the author of the Stromata, has produced “Tares and dregs”: the other Fathers of this age, Apostolic men to be sure, “have left blasphemies and monstrosities to posterity.” In Tertullian they eagerly seize upon what they have learned from us, in common with us, to detest; but they should remember that his book On Prescriptions, which has so signally smitten the heretics of our times, was never found fault with. How finely, how, clearly, has Hippolytus, Bishop of Porto pointed out beforehand the power of Antichrist, the times of Luther! They call him, therefore, “a most babyish writer, an owl.” Cyprian, the delight and glory of Africa, that French critic Caussee, and the Centuriators of Magdeburg, have termed “stupid, God-forsaken corrupter of repentance.” What harm has he done? He has written On Virgins, On the Lapsed, On the Unity of the Church, such treatises as also such letters to Cornelius, the Roman Pontiff, that, unless credence be withdrawn from this Martyr, Peter Martyr Vermilius and all his associates must count for worse than adulterers and men guilty of sacrilege. And, not to dwell longer on individuals, the Fathers of this age are all condemned “for wonderful corruption of the doctrine of repentance.” How so? Because the austerity of the Canons in vogue at that time is particularly obnoxious to this plausible sect which, better fitted for dining-rooms than for churches, is wont to tickle voluptuous ears and to sew cushions on every arm (Ezech. xiii. 18). Take the next age, what offence has that committed? Chrysostom and those Fathers, forsooth, have “foully obscured the justice of faith.” Gregory Nazianzen whom the ancients called eminently “the Theologian,” is in the judgment of Caussee “a chatter-box, who did not know what he was saying.” Ambrose was “under the spell of an evil demon.” Jerome is “as damnable as the devil, injurious to the Apostle, a blasphemer, a wicked wretch.” To Gregory Massow—”Calvin alone is worth more than a hundred Augustines.” A hundred is a small number: Luther “reckons nothing of having against him a thousand Augustines, a thousand Cyprians, a thousand Churches.” I think I need not carry the matter further. For when men rage against the above-mentioned Fathers, who can wonder at the impertinence of their language against Optatus, Hilary, the two Cyrils, Epiphanius, Basil, Vincent, Fulgentius, Leo, and the Roman Gregory. However, if we grant any just defence of an unjust cause, I do not deny that the Fathers wherever you light upon them, afford the party of our opponents matter they needs must disagree with, so long as they are consistent with themselves. Men who have appointed fast-days, how must they be minded in regard of Basil, Gregory, Nazianzen, Leo, Chrysostom, who have published telling sermons on Lent and prescribed days of fasting as things already in customary use? Men who have sold their souls for gold, lust, drunkenness and ambitious display, can they be other than most hostile to Basil, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, whose excellent books are in the hands of all, treating of the institute, rule, and virtues of monks? Men who have carried the human will into captivity, who have abolished Christian funerals, who have burnt the relics of Saints, can they possibly be reconciled to Augustine, who has composed three books on Free Will, one on Care for the Dead, besides sundry sermons and a long chapter in a noble work on the Miracles wrought at the Basilicas and Monuments of the Martyrs? Men who measure faith by their own quips and quirks, must they not be angry with Augustine, of whom there is extant a remarkable Letter against a Manichean, in which he professes himself to assent to Antiquity, to Consent, to Perpetuity of Succession, and to the Church which, alone among so many heresies, claims by prescriptive right the name of Catholic?
Optatus, Bishop of Milevis, refutes the Donatist faction by appeal to Catholic communion: he accuses their wickedness by appeal to the decree of Melchiades: he convicts their heresy by reference to the order of succession of Roman Pontiffs: he lays open their frenzy in their defilement of the Eucharist and of schism: he abhors their sacrilege in their breaking of altars “on which the members of Christ are borne,” and their pollution of chalices “which have held the blood of Christ.” I greatly desire to know what they think of Optatus, whom Augustine mentions as a venerable Catholic Bishop, the equal of Ambrose and of Cyprian; and Fulgentius as a holy and faithful interpreter of Paul, like unto Augustine and Ambrose. They sing in their churches the Creed of Athanasius. Do they stand by him? That grave anchor who has written an elaborate book in praise of the Egyptian hermit Antony, and who with the Synod of Alexandria suppliantly appealed to the judgment of the Apostolic See, the See of St. Peter. How often does Prudentius in his Hymns pray to the martyrs whose praises he sings! how often at their ashes and bones does he venerate the King of Martyrs! Will they approve his proceeding? Jerome writes against Vigilantius in defence of the relics of the Saints and the honours paid to them; as also against Jovinian for the rank to be allowed to virginity. Will they endure him? Ambrose honoured his patron saints Gervase and Protase with a most glorious solemnity by way of putting the Arians to shame. This action of his was praised by most godly Fathers, and God honoured it with more than one miracle. Are they going to take a kindly view off Ambrose here? Gregory the Great, our Apostle, is most manifestly with us, and therefore is a hateful personage to our adversaries. Calvin, in his rage, says that he was not brought up in the school of the Holy Ghost, seeing that he had called holy images the books of the illiterate.
Time would fail me were I to try to count up the Epistles, Sermons, Homilies, Orations, Opuscula and dissertations of the Fathers, in which they have laboriously, earnestly and with much learning supported the doctrines of us Catholics. As long as these works are for sale at the booksellers’ shops, it will be vain to prohibit the writings of our controversialists; vain to keep watch at the ports and on the sea-coast; vain to search houses, boxes, desks, and book-chests; vain to set up so many threatening notices at the gates. No Harding, nor Sanders, nor Allen, nor Stapleton, nor Bristow, attack these new-fangled fancies with more vigour than do the Fathers whom I have enumerated. As I think over these and the like facts, my courage has grown and my ardour for battle, in which whatever way the adversary stirs, unless he will yield glory to God, he will be in straits. Let him admit the Fathers, he is caught: let him shut them out, he is undone.
When we were young men, the following incident occurred. John Jewell, a foremost champion of the Calvinists of England, with incredible arrogance challenged the Catholics at St. Paul’s, London, invoking hypocritically and calling upon the Fathers, who had flourished within the first six hundred years of Christianity. His wager was taken up by the illustrious men who were then in exile at Louvain, hemmed in though they were with very great difficulties by reason of the iniquity of their times. I venture to assert that that device of Jewell’s, stupid, unconscionable, shameless as it was, qualities which those writers happily brought out, did so much good to our countrymen that scarcely anything in my recollection has turned out to the better advantage of the suffering English Church. At once an edict is hung up on the doors, forbidding the reading or retaining of any of those books, whereas they had come out, or were wrung out, I may almost say, by the outcry that Jewell had raised. The result was that all the persons interested in the matter came to understand that the Fathers were Catholics, that is to say, ours. Nor has Lawrence Humphrey passed over in silence this wound inflicted on him and his party. After high praise of Jewell in other respects, he fixes on him this role of inconsiderateness, that he admitted the reasonings of the Fathers, with whom Humphrey declares, without any beating about the bush, that he has nothing in common nor ever will have.
We also sounded once in familiar discourse Toby Matthews, now a leading preacher, whom we loved for his good accomplishments and the seeds of virtue in him; we asked him to answer honestly whether one who read the Fathers assiduously could belong to that party which he supported. He answered that he could not, if, besides reading, he also believed them. This saying is most true; nor do I think that either he at the present time, or Matthew Hutten, a man of name, who is said to read the Fathers with an assiduity that few equal, or other adversaries who do the like, are otherwise minded.
Thus far I have been able to descend with security into this field of conflict, to wage war with men, who, as though they held a wolf by the ears, are compelled to brand their cause with an everlasting stigma of shame, whether they refuse the Fathers or whether they call for them. In the one case they are preparing to run away, in the other they are caught by the throat.
Antiochiae, qua primum in urbe Christianorum nobile cognomentum increbuit, Doctores, id est, eminentes theologi; et Prophetae, id est, concionatores perquam celebres, floruerunt. Huiusce generis “scribas et sapientes, doctos in regno Dei, nova promentes et vetera,” Christum callentes et Moysem, Dominus ipse futuros gregi prospexerat. Hos, ingentis beneficii loco donatos, explodere, quanti maleficii est? Explosit adversarius. Quid ita? Quia stantibus illis, concidisset. Id ego quum pro certissimo comperissem, pugnam simpliciter exoptavi, non illam iocularem, qua turbae velitantur in compitis, sed istam severam et acrem, qua congredimur in vestris Philosophorum spatiis:
/*-pede pes, densusque viro vir.
Ad Patres si quando licebit accedere, confectum est praelium; tam sunt nostri, quam Gregorius ipse decimus tertius, filiorum Ecclesiae Pater amantissimus. Nam ut omittam loca sparsa, quae ex monumentis veterum conquisita, nostram fidem apposite affirmateque propugnant; tenemus horum integra volumina, quae de industria religionem, quam tuemur, evangelicam distincte copioseque dilucidant. Duplex Hierarchia Martyris Dionysii quas classes, quae sacra, quos ritus edocet? Pupugit ea res Lutherum tam valde, ut huius opera “simillima somniis, nec non perniciosissima” iudicaret. Imitatus parentem Caussaeus, nescio quis terrae filius, ex Gallia, non est veritus hunc Dionysium, inclytae gentis Apostolum, vocitare “delirum senem.” Centuriatores vehementer offendit Ignatius et Calvinum, ut in eius epistolis “deformes naevos, et putidas naenias” hominum quisquiliae notarint. Censoribus illis “fanaticum quiddam” Irenaeus edixit; Clemens auctor Stromatum “zizania faecesque protulit;” reliqui Patres huius aevi, sane apostolici viri, “blasphemias et monstra posteris reliquerunt.” In Tertulliano rapiunt avide, quod a nobis edocti, nobiscum communiter detestentur; sed meminerint libellum de Praescriptionibus, qui nostri temporis sectarios tam insigniter perculit, numquam fuisse reprehensum. Hippolytus, Portuensis episcopus, quam belle, quam clare Antichristi nervum, lutherana tempora, praemonstravit? Eum propterea “scriptorem infantissimum et larvam” nominant. Cyprianum, delicias et decus Africae, Gallicanus ille criticus et Magdeburgici “stupidum, et destitutum Deo, et depravatorem poenitentiae” nuncuparunt. Quid admisit? Scripsit enim de virginibus, de lapsis, de unitate Ecclesiae tractationes euismodi, eas etiam epistolas Cornelio, Romano Pontifici, ut nisi fides huic martyr detrahatur, Petrus Martyr Vermilius, omnesque cum eo foederati, peiores adulteris et sacrilegis habeantur. Ac ne singulis insistam diutius, Patres huius saeculi damnantur omnes, “quippe qui doctrinam de poenitentia mire depravarint.” Quo pacto? Nam austeritas canonum, quae viguit ea tempestate, maiorem in modum displicet huic sectae plausibili, quae tricliniis aptior, quam templis, voluptarias aures titillare et pulvillos omni cubito solet assuere.
Quid aetas proxima, quid peccavit? Chrysostomus et ii Patres “iustitiam fidei foede” videlicet “obscurarunt.” Nazianzenus, quem honoris causa, Theologum veteres appellarunt, Caussaeo iudice, “Fabulator, quid affirmaret, nesciit.” Ambrosius “a cacodaemone fascinatus est.” Hieronymus “aeque damnatus, atque diabolus: iniuriosus Apostolo, blasphemus, sceleratus, impius.” “Vnus” Gregorio Massovio “pluris est Calvinus, quam centum Augustini.” Parum est, centum; Lutherus “nihili facit adversum se mille Augustinos, mille Cyprianos, mille Ecclesias.” Longius rem deducere, supervacaneum puto. Nam in hos, qui bachantur, quis miretur in Optatum, Athanasium, Hilarium, Cyrillos, Epiphanium, Basilium, Vincentium, Fulgentium, Leonem, Gregoriumque Romanum fuisse procacissimos?
Quamquam si datur ulla rebus iniustis iusta defensio non inficior habere Patres, ubicumque incideris, quod isti, dum sibi consentiunt, necessario stomachentur. Etinem qui odere stata ieiunia, quo animo oportet esse in Basilium, Nazianzenum, Chrysostomum, qui de quadragesima et indictis ieiuniorum feriis, tamquam de rebus iam usitatis, conciones egregias publicarunt? Qui suas animas auro, libidine, crapula et ambitiosis conspectibus vendiderunt, possuntne non esse inimicissimi Basilio, Chrysostomo, Hierionymo, Augustino, quorum excellentes libri de monachorum instituto, regula, virtutibus, teruntur?
Qui captivam hominis voluntatem invexere, qui christiana funebria sustulere, qui Divorum reliquias incendere, sintne placabiles Augustino, qui de libero arbitrio libros tres, de cura pro mortuis unum, de miraculis ad Basilicas et memorias Martyrum prolixum caput nobilissimi operis et conciones aliquot exaravit? Qui fidem suis captiunculis metiuntur, nonne succenseant Augustino, cuius est insignis epistola, qua se profitetur antiquitati, consensioni, successioni perpetuae et Ecclesiae, quae sola inter tot haereses Catholicae nomen usucapione vindicat assentire?
Optatus, Milevitanus episcopus, Donatianam partem revincit ex communione Catholica; nequitiam accusat ex decreto Melchiadis (lib. 1); haeresim refutat ex ordine Romanorum Pontificum (lib. 2); insaniam patefacit ex Eucharistia et chrismate contaminatis (lib. 3); sacrilegium horret ex diffractis altaribus “in quibus Christi membra portata sunt,” pollutisque calicibus “qui Christi sanguinem tenuerunt,” (lib. 6). De Optato quid sentiant, aveo scire, quem Augustinus ut venerabilem et catholicum episcopum, Ambrosio parem et Cypriano; quem Fulgentius ut sanctum et fidelem Pauli interpretem, Augustini similem et Ambrosii, meminerunt.
Athanasii Symbolum in templis concinunt. Num favent ei, qui Antonium Eremitam Aegyptium, gravis auctor, accurato libello dilaudaverit, quique cum Alexandrina Synodo iudicium Sedis Apostolicae, Divi Petri, suppliciter appellarit? Prudentius in hymnis quoties precatur Martyres, quos decantat? Quoties ad eorum cineres et ossa Regem Martyrum veneratur? Num hunc probabunt? Hieronymus pro Divorum reliquiis et honoribas scribit in Vigilantium, in Iovinianam pro virginitatis gradu. Huccine patientur? Ambrosius tutores suos Gervasium et Protasium, celebritate notissima, in Arianam ignominiam honestavit; cui facto divinissimi Patres encomium tribuere: quod factum Deus non uno prodigio decoravit. Num benevoli sunt Ambrosio futuri? Gregorius Magnus, noster Apostolus, planissime noster est, eoque nomine nostris adversariis odiosus; quem Calvini rabies negat in schola sancti Spiritus educatum, propterea quod sacras imagines illitteratorum libros appellasset.
Dies me deficeret numerantem epistolas, conciones, homilias, orationes, opuscula, disceptationes Patrum, in quibus ex apparato graviter et ornate nostra catholicorum dogmata roborarunt. Quamdiu apud bibliopolas ista venierint, tamdiu frustra nostrorum codices prohibentur; frustra servantur aditus oraeque maritimae; frustra domus, arcae, scrinia, capsulae disquiruntur; frustra tot portis minaces tabulae suffiguntur. Nullus enim Hardingus, nec Sanderus, nec Stapletonus, nec Bristolius haec nova somnia vehementius, quam hi, quos recensui, Patres, insectantur. Talia cogitanti accrevit animus et desiderium pugnae, in qua, quoquo se moverit adversarius, nisi gloriam Deo cesserit, feret incommodum. Patres admiserit, captus est; excluserit, nullus est.
Adolescentibus nobis ita contigit. Ioannes Ivellus antesignanus calvinianorum Angliae, catholicos ad Divi Pauli Londinensium incredibili iactantia lacessivit, invocatis per hypocrisim et imploratis Patribus, quicumque intra salutis annum sexcentesimum claruisset. Accipiunt conditionem memorabiles viri, qui tum exsulabant Lovanii, summis licet difficultatibus propter iniquitatem suorum temporum circumsepti. Ausim dicere, tanto popularibus nostris bono fuisse illam Ivellii astutiam, inscitiam, improbitatem, impudentiam, quas ii scriptores feliciter expanderunt, ut vix aliud quidquam, memoria mea, provenerit Anglorum Ecclesiae laboranti fructuosius. Edictum continuo valvis appenditur, ne qui codices illiusmodi legerentur, neve haberentur. Quum tantis clamoribus propemodum extorti prodiissent, didicere quicumque negotium attigissent, Patres fuisse catholicos, id est, nostros. Neque hoc sibi suisque vulnus inflictum Laurentius Humfredus tacuit; qui quum alte Ivellum quoad caetera sustulisset, unam ei notam aspersit inconsiderantiae, quod Patrum calculos recepisset, quibuscum sibi nihil esse commercii, nec fore, sine ulla circuitione proloquitur.
Pertentavimus etiam familiariter aliquando Tobiam Matthaeum, qui nunc in concionibus dominatur, quem propter bonas artes et virtutum semina dileximus, ut responderet ingenue, possetne qui Patres assiduus lectitaret, istarum esse partium, quas ille suaserat. Retulit, non posse, si pariter eos legeret iisque crederet. Verissimum hoc verbum est, neque aliter eum nunc, aut Mattheum Huttonum, qui vir nominatus in paucis, versare Patres dicitur, aut reliquos adversarios, qui hoc faciunt, sentire arbitror.
Hactenus ergo securus in hanc aciem potui descendere, bellaturus cum, iis, qui quasi auribus lupum teneant, aeternam causae maculam cogantur inutere, sive recusent Patres, sive deposcant. Nam in altero fugam adornant, in altero suffocantur.