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Daily Archives: May 24, 2014

St Vincent of Lerins

Saint Vincent of Lerins

Saint Vincent of Lerins

A leading theologian of the Church of Gaul in the 5th century, St. Vincent settled in the island monastery of Lerins off the southern coast of France in order that “avoiding the concourse and crowds of cities… I can follow without distraction the Psalmist’s admonition, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Here he wrote his celebrated Commonitorium, a “Reminder,” where he wrote down “those things which I have truthfully received from the holy Fathers ,” which they “have handed down to us and committed to our keeping.” Among these things is the celebrated definition of orthodoxy as quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus: that which has been believed in the Church “everywhere, always, by everyone.” St. Vincent lived in an age of great historical uncertainty; barbarian tribes were a constant menace and although four hundred years of Christian tradition had already passed, the foundations of the faith had been only recently clarified by decisions made in the Ecumenical Councils–the Council of Nicea (325), the Council of Constantinople (381) and the Council of Ephesus (431). It is, therefore, not surprising that St. Vincent was so concerned to preserve the authority of Christian tradition. This is not to say that he was opposed to progress or doctrinal development; each age must face its won particular problems and develop a Christian response in answer to them. “But it must be progress in the proper sense of the word, and not a change in faith. Progress means that each thing grows within itself, whereas change implies that one thing is transformed into another …. The growth of religion in the soul should be like the growth of the body, which in the course of year develops and unfolds, yet remains the same as it was.”

“In ancient times, our forefathers sowed the seeds of the wheat of faith in that field which is the Church. It would be quite unjust and improper if we, their descendents, gathered, instead of the genuine truth of wheat, the false tares of error. On the contrary, it is logically correct that the beginning and the end be in agreement, that we reap from the planting of the wheat of doctrine the harvest of the wheat of dogma. In this way, none of the Characteristics of the seed is changed, although something evolved in the course of time from those first seeds and has now expanded under careful cultivation. What may be added is merely appearance, beauty, and distinction, but the proper nature of each kind remains.”

His defense of the traditions of the Fathers and his condemnation of innovation and novelty in the Church are as appropriate today as they were in his time:

“The Church of Christ, zealous and cautious guardian of the dogmas deposited with it, never changes any phase of them. It does not diminish them or add to them; it neither trims what seems necessary, nor grafts things superfluous; it neither gives up its own nor usurps what does not belong to it. But it devotes all its diligence to one aim: to treat tradition faithfully and wisely; to nurse and polish what from old times may have remained unshaped and unfinished; to consolidate and to strengthen what already was clear · and plain; and to guard what already was confirmed and defined. After all, what have the councils brought forth in their decrees but that what’ before was believed plainly and simply might from now on be believed more diligently; that what before was preached rather unconcernedly might be preached from now on more eagerly.”

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