Arthur Middleton on ‘what always and everywhere and by all was believed’

There are many church people who see updating the Church as accommodating it to secular culture and too often their arguments are grounded in sentiment rather than Church principle. For them progress in Christian faith and order is a development to change it into something completely different from what it has been. This does not happen in human growth because whatever develops must grow from what organically preceded it. Similarly, in the growth and development of Christian faith and order the Church cannot change it into something else. As God and Man, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and forever, and his male gender is a vehicle of revelation and he cannot be reduced to an androgynous man to fit the secular assumptions. He would then become someone he is not.

The Church has developed and expanded its teaching but the nature of the expansion does not change the nature of the teaching. It remains the same but we have grown into a more fulsome vision of that teaching. What some church people are demanding is a change in the nature of the doctrines. The call for a redefinition of marriage to include same-sex relationships is a complete alteration.

Scripture cannot be seen as existing in a vacuum apart from the life of the Church but at the same time the centrality of Scripture limited the function of the Church in doctrinal matters, which was supported by Vincent of Lérins when he maintained that ‘what always and everywhere and by all was believed’ constituted a test which could not be complied with on any other basis.

In the 1851 edition of Vincentius Against Heresy (Latin and English) there is an extract from Bishop Beveridge included as an Introduction because it forms a suitable preface to the argument of Vincentius. There is a contemporary ring about what

Beveridge describes as the ‘senseless age’ in which he was contending for the catholic faith of the primitive Fathers: ‘in these late times, it seems new lights are boasted of, new and greater gifts of the Holy Spirit are pretended: and therefore new forms of believing, new forms of praying, new forms of preaching, new forms in the use of all ecclesiastical administrations, are daily framed and commonly adopted. And, what is most absurd, nothing now is esteemed of before novelty itself…’

What Beveridge experienced chimes inwithwhatBishop Knapp-Fisherwrote about in the Seventies: ‘many people today …pay little or no attention to the past, of which we can know something, or to the future, of which we can know nothing.’ The Bishop continued that the cult of the contemporary can be clearly discerned in the new theology. The new generation of today’s theologians have misunderstood the vocation of the Christian theologian which is that of ‘relating the revealed datum of Christian truth, final, absolute, and fundamentally permanent…to the essentially incomplete, relative and constantly changing intellectual framework of the world in which he lives’. ND