Arthur Middleton on the interpretation of Holy Scripture

The insular way in which the General Synod has justified admitting women into Holy Order conceals a fallacy that the reformed Church of England depends on the principle of private judgement as the interpreter of Scripture in excluding Tradition and the public judgement of the Church. These latter elements, necessary to the interpretation of Scripture, have been ignored and rejected, though they are embedded within Anglican formularies and were implicit in the unheeded warnings of those opposing this innovation.

John Bramhall (1594-1633), the Bishop of Derry, known as Athanasius Hibernicus, met this same illusion in the French convert to Roman Catholicism, de la Milletiere, who claimed that the English Reformation depends on the principle of private judgement as the interpreter of Scripture. Bramhall referred him to Richard Field’s five-volume work Of the Church, first published in 1606, in which Field claims that for the interpretation of Scripture there exists a judgement of three kinds. Some people possess a judgement of discretion, others a judgement of direction and others a judgement of jurisdiction.

Every Christian has a judgement of discretion, for his own private instruction. The Pastors of the Church have a judgement of direction, for they are placed over God’s people as watchmen and guides. The Chief Pastors (that is, the bishops) have a judgement of jurisdiction, to prescribe and constitute judicially and authoritatively. Above the individual Chief Pastor is the collective authority of his superior, the General Council, which, under Christ, is the highest judge of controversies upon earth.

‘He that presumes above that degree and proportion which he hath in these means, and above the talent which God hath given him (as he that hath a little language, yet wants logic; or having both language and logic, knows not, or regards not, either the judgement of former expositors, or the practice and tradition of the purest primitive ages, or the Symbolical Faith of the Catholic Church), is not a likely workman to build a Temple to the Lord, but ruin and destruction to himself and his seduced followers. A new physician,’ we say, ‘requires a new church-yard’ but such bold ignorant empirics in theology are ten times more dangerous to the soul, than an ungrounded inexperienced quack-salver to the body…

‘We admit genuine, universal, Apostolical traditions, as the Apostles’ Creed, the perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God… We believe Episcopacy, to an ingenuous person, may be proved out of Scripture without the help of Tradition; but the perpetual practice and tradition of the Church renders the interpretation of the text more authentic. It is an excellent help to exposition.’

A Report on the Church of England in 1634 was presented to Rome by Fr Leander, at the time resident in England. He says that ‘the Protestant Church in England retains an external appearance of the ecclesiastical hierarchy which was in force during the time of the Catholic religion: it has its Archbishops, Bishops, etc… It preserves…a certain form of conferring Orders which agrees, in most respects, with the forms prescribed in the Roman pontificial… The English Protestants deem that without this form of hierarchical government the Church of Christ is not only obscured, but that its nature and substance are taken away.’