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SOVEREIGN Contempt for the authority of
the FATHERS, and no great reverence for any other, is what now-a-days constitutes a Protestant in fashion. But, as I imagine Religion loseth somewhat, and Learning a great deal more, by the neglect in which the FATHERS lye at present, I should have been tempted to say a word or two in their behalf, even though the subject of the following sheets did not require that they, whose testimony I make some use of, should have their pretensions fairly stated, and their character examined. But what is here insinuated to the discredit of the present mode in theology with regard to the FATHERS is by no means said in favour of the past, but of that which good sense seems disposed to place between them.
Their authority had now, for many ages, been held sacred. Although by taking the Greek philosophy, in which they had been nurtured, for their guide in explaining the nature and genius of the GOSPEL, they had unhappily turned religion into an art; which their successors, the schOOLMEN, soon after turned into a trade. But, as in all matters where reason doth not hold the balance, that authority, which had been extravagantly advanced, was, on the turn of the times,
as extravagantly undervalued : It may not therefore be amiss to acquaint the English reader, in few words, how all this came to pass.
When the avarice and ambition of the church of Rome had, by working with the superstition and ignorance of the people, erected what it calls the hiERARCHY, which was the digesting an ecclesiastical policy on the ruins of gospel liberty, they found nothing of such use for the administration and support of this spiritual system as the making the authority of the FATHERS sacred, and consequently decisive. For this church having introduced numerous errors and superstitions, both in rites and doctrines, which the silence and the declarations of scripture equally condemned, they were obliged to seal up those living oracles, and open this new warehouse of the dead. And it was no wonder if, in that shoal of writers which the great drag-net of time (as a poet of our own calls it) had inclosed and brought down to us, under the name of FATHERS, there should be some amongst them of a character suited to countenance any kind of folly or extravagance. Their decisions, therefore, it was thought fit should be treated as laws; and collected into a kind of code, under the title of the Sentences.
From this time every thing was tried at the bar of the fathers; and so unquestioned was their jurisdiction, that when the great Defection was made from the Church of Rome, the Reformed, though they shook off the tyranny of the Pope, could not disengage themselves
* Comme l'autorité fait le fondement de cette étude (la theologie) il est juste de deferer ABSOLUMENT nun seulement à l'Ecriture sainte, mais encore aux sentimens des Peres, qui nous ont expliqué la tradition, sur tout à ceux que l'Eglise a canonisez, pour ainsi dire, par son approbation, on en tout ou en partie. Traité des etudes monastiques, par Mabillon, p. 360.