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St. Vincent of Lérins

Apostolic See, Papal Authority

“Nor is there anything new in this? For it has always been the case in the Church, that the more a man is under the influence of religion, so much the more prompt is he to oppose innovations. Examples there are without number: but to be brief, we will take one, and that, in preference to others, from the Apostolic See, so that it may be clearer than day to every one with how great energy, with how great zeal, with how great earnestness, the blessed successors of the blessed apostles have constantly defended the integrity of the religion which they have once received.

“Once on a time then, Agripinnus, bishop of Carthage, of venerable memory, held the doctrine — and he was the first who held it — that Baptism ought to be repeated, contrary to the divine canon, contrary to the rule of the universal Church, contrary to the customs and institutions of our ancestors. This innovation drew after it such an amount of evil, that it not only gave an example of sacrilege to heretics of all sorts, but proved an occasion of error to certain Catholics even.

“When then all men protested against the novelty, and the priesthood everywhere, each as his zeal prompted him, opposed it, Pope Stephen of blessed memory, Prelate of the Apostolic See, in conjunction indeed with his colleagues but yet himself the foremost, withstood it, thinking it right, I doubt not, that as he exceeded all others in the authority of his place, so he should also in the devotion of his faith.” (Commonitorium 6; English from E. Giles, p. 272; Patrologia Latina 50.645 [c. A.D. 434]).

“And lest perchance the doctrine ratified by the Council should be thought peculiar to one city and province, there were added also those lights of Cappadocia, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop and Confessor, St. Basil of Cæsarea in Cappadocia, bishop and Confessor, and the other St. Gregory, St. Gregory of Nyssa, for his faith, his conversation, his integrity, and his wisdom, most worthy to be the brother of Basil. And lest Greece or the East should seem to stand alone, to prove that the Western and Latin world also have always held the same belief, there were read in the Council certain Epistles of St. Felix, martyr, and St. Julius, both bishops of Rome. And that not only the Head, but the other parts, of the world also might bear witness to the judgment of the council, there was added from the South the most blessed Cyprian, bishop of Carthage and martyr, and from the North St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan” (Commonitorium, Chapter 30, on the Council of Ephesus).

“The foregoing would be enough and very much more than enough, to crush and annihilate every profane novelty. But yet that nothing might be wanting to such completeness of proof, we added, at the close, the twofold authority of the Apostolic See, first, that of holy Pope Sixtus, the venerable prelate who now adorns the Roman Church; and secondly that of his predecessor, Pope Celestine of blessed memory, which same we think it necessary to insert here also.” (Commonitorium, Chapter 32).

“ It happened in the past that Agrippinus, bishop of Carthage, of venerable memory, was the first of all mortals to think it right to rebaptize, contrary to the divine canon, contrary to the rule of the universal Church, contrary to the feeling of all his fellow bishops, contrary to ancestral custom and regulations. And this innovation brought about such an amount of evil that it afforded to all heretics an example of sacrilege, and even to some catholics an occasion of error. When, then, all protested against the newness of this practice, and the priests everywhere, each as his zeal prompted him, opposed it, Pope Stephen of blessed memory, prelate of the apostolic see, acting indeed with his colleagues, but euen so before them, opposed it, thinking it right, as I imagine, so far to excel all the rest in his devotion to the faith as he surpassed them by the autlzority of his place. Accordingly, in a letter which he sent then to Africa, he sanctioned these words : "Let nothing be innovated beyond what has been handed down." For that holy and prudent man knew that the policy of piety does not permit any other rule than that the selfsame things which have been received as of faith from the fathers should be taught under seal of faith to the children…And what validity in the end had that African council or its decrees? None whatever, thanks to God ; but the whole affair, like a story, like a dream, like refuse, was effaced, rejected, and trampled under foot….

“All this would be enough in its cumulative abundance to crush and extinguish every profane heresy; but yet, lest anything should be wanting to the completeness of our contention, we will add at the end a double authority from the apostolic see-one of S. Sixtus, the venerable Pope who now adorns the Roman Church, the other of his predecessor, Pope Celestine of blessed memory, which we have thought it right to insert here. Holy Pope Sixtus says in an epistle which he sent to the bishop of Antioch about Nestorius' case : "Therefore because, as the apostle says, there is one faith, which has evidently been held hitherto, let us believe what ought to be confessed and held." What are the things which ought to be believed and confessed? He goes on, " Let no licence be allowed to novelty, because it is not fitting that anything be added to antiquity. Let not the clear faith and belief of our fathers be clouded by any admixture of filth.l Decidedly aposiolical, that he should adorn the belief of the fathers with the light of clearness, and describe profane novelties as a mixture of filth. But holy Pope Celestine was equally of the same opinion. , For he says in his letter which he sent to the priests in Gaul, convicting them of connivance in error because, by their keeping silent, they were abandoning the old faith and suffering profane novelties to spring up : "Deservedly are we to blame, if by our silence we encourage error. Therefore let those who are guilty of this be rebuked. Do not let them have unrestricted liberty of preaching." . . . He goes on . . . " If this be true, let novelty cease to assail antiquity. That was the blessed opinion of blessed Celestine-not that antiquity should cease to subvert novelty, but that novelty should cease to attack antiquity.

“Whoever shall break these apostolic and catholic decrees is bound first of all to insult the memory of S. Celestine, who enjoined that novelty should cease to assail antiquity. Next he must mock the decision of S. Sixtus, who believed that no licence ought to be given to novelty, because it is not fitting that anything should be added to antiquity. He also despises the fixed opinion of blessed Cyril, who loudly praised the zeal / of the venerable Capreolus,s because he desired the doctrines I of the ancient faith to be confirmed and novel inventions to be condemned Moreover he tramples on the synod of Ephesus, the judgements of the holy bishops from almost the whole of the East. . . . Finally such a one despises the whole Church of Christ and her teachers, apostles, and prophets, and especially the blessed apostle Paul, as so much dirt.” (Commonitorium).

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