Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Some Accessible Scholarship

In all our current theological struggles these days (and in this, when I say “all,” I think this will prove true of controversies these days far beyond the Anglican Communion), we hear again and again the words of St. Vincent of Lerins:

“Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” (emphasis in the source)

This has been quoted with such frequency that it’s been called the Vincentian Canon.

Now, whenever I hear that quoted, I respond by noting that in fact the sentence describes a null set; it has no content. If we look honestly at the history of the Church, from the Apostolic Age even to the life of St. Vincent, there is almost nothing of our developed Christian theology “which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.

In earnest of this, let me call to your attention two posts, the first two of a promised series, at “Catholic in the Third Millenium,” the blog of the Rev. Dr. Daniel Dunlap. The posts are “Ten Interesting Facts About the Struggle for the Nicene Faith,” and “Ten More Interesting Facts About the Struggle for the Nicene Faith.” These begin a concise review of the decisions of the first Ecumenical Councils in the context of wider events in the Church. Since as Anglicans we affirm the Ecumenical Councils of the “undivided Church” (at least four, and my theology professor thought we should affirm all seven), these events must certainly be of import to us. I commend these posts to your attention, and look forward for additions to the series.

By the way, you can read the Vincentian Canon in context here. I encourage all to read the passage. It is much more sophisticated in application than I think is usually credited. There is plenty here to discomfort both those who quote it too often, and those of us who think little of it. What is most important here is, I think, that St.Vincent was not writing about a fixed body of content. He was writing about theological method. That doesn’t entirely resolve the problems I see with the Vincentian Canon, but it certainly calls into question the way some have used it.

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