Arthur Middleton on the Rule of Faith

In Lyra Apostolica, one poem is entitled “The Rule of Faith,’ described as ‘always, everywhere and by all.’ ‘Mark how each Creed stands in that Test reveal’d, Romish, and Swiss, and Lutheran novelties… Falsehood lets fall her poisoned cup and flies… O Holy Truth, whene’er thy voice is heard… So may obedience lead me by the hand into thine inner shrine and secret hall…’

John Jewel’s Challenge Sermon is prefaced by two mottoes highlighting this same appeal to antiquity; the first, “This is a prejudice against all heresies: that that thing is true, whatsoever was first: that is corrupt, whatsoever came after’ [Tertullian]; the second, ‘Let the ancient customs prevail or be maintained’ [Nicene Canon VI]. This appeal to antiquity, and to the earliest antiquity, is a principle of Anglican divinity that does not deviate from Scripture as the ultimate standard of doctrine, but the Fathers guide us to the sense of Scripture.

Irenaeus calls this ‘rule’ the Canon of Truth which the believer receives by baptism. Tertullian calls it the Rule of Faith, which for Athanasius and Augustine

is the baptismal formula. Its basis was prescribed by Jesus: ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing… teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.'[Matt. 28.19,20]. On it was built a superstructure comprising the substance of oral instruction communicated by Jesus to his Apostles before and after the Resurrection, which they embodied in short formulae of instruction for new converts. It would be expanded in time by the inspired writings of the New Testament, becoming a worldwide test of brotherhood, a countersign, distinguishing Christian truth from heresy; ‘a mark whereby to discern Christian men from infidels and Jews’ [Hooker].

The Roman or Apostles’ Creed, being the simplest form, and accusing no particular heresy, may have approximated to that which the Apostles gave to the Church; but each church had its own inherent authority to enlarge the definitions of the Rule of Faith in any direction that refutation of error required. Justin Martyr’s First Apology follows generally the order of the Apostles’ Creed.

This Rule of Faith is the traditional body of doctrine, descending from the Apostles, from Christ himself, the ‘faith delivered to the saints’. “The Church, having received this body of doctrine, in its entirety carefully guards it, as dwelling in one house; her faith is in accordance with it, and her preaching and instruction and tradition are in harmony with it, as though they were uttered with one mouth’ [Irenaeus, Against Heresies]. It was memorized, ‘written on hearts by the Spirit, not on parchment with ink.. .thereby preserved from the blasphemous ravings of heresy.’

Tertullian says, ‘Let us inquire then in our own body, and from our own record, and only so far as any question may arise, without prejudice to the rule of faith…’; the Creed, in its true order, contradicts the heresies with which he is dealing. “This rule, instituted.. .by Christ, admits of no question amongst ourselves, except such as are forced upon us by heresy… To know nothing in opposition to this rule is to know everything’ [Prescription Against Heresy]. The preaching of the Church at no point should differ from the ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition [Origen, De Principiis]. Invariably it is mentioned as a primeval tradition that had descended to the time of the several writers, unchanged in substance, through the Apostles from Christ himself.