Commonitory by St. Vincent of Lerins.
Exposition of St. Paul’s Words, Gal. i. 8.
[21.] When therefore certain of this sort wandering about provinces and cities, and carrying with them their venal errors, had found their way to Galatia, and when the Galatians, on hearing them, nauseating the truth, and vomiting up the manna of Apostolic and Catholic doctrine, were delighted with the garbage of heretical novelty, the apostle putting in exercise the authority of his office, delivered his sentence with the utmost severity,
Though we, he says,
or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:8
[22.] Why does he say
Though we? Why not rather
though I? He means,
though Peter, though Andrew, though John, in a word, though the whole company of apostles, preach unto you other than we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. Tremendous severity! He spares neither himself nor his fellow apostles, so he may preserve unaltered the faith which was at first delivered. Nay, this is not all. He goes on
Even though an angel from heaven preach unto you any other Gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. It was not enough for the preservation of the faith once delivered to have referred to man; he must needs comprehend angels also.
Though we, he says,
or an angel from heaven. Not that the holy angels of heaven are now capable of sinning. But what he means is: Even if that were to happen which cannot happen—if any one, be he who he may, attempt to alter the faith once for all delivered, let him be accursed.
[23.] But it may be, he spoke thus in the first instance inconsiderately, giving vent to human impetuosity rather than expressing himself under divine guidance. Far from it. He follows up what he had said, and urges it with intense reiterated earnestness,
As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other Gospel to you than that you have received, let him be accursed. He does not say,
If any man deliver to you another message than that you have received, let him be blessed, praised, welcomed,— no; but
let him be accursed,[anathema] i.e., separated, segregated, excluded, lest the dire contagion of a single sheep contaminate the guiltless flock of Christ by his poisonous intermixture with them.
His warning to the Galatians a warning to all.
[24.] But, possibly, this warning was intended for the Galatians only. Be it so; then those other exhortations which follow in the same Epistle were intended for the Galatians only, such as,
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit; let us not be desirous of vainglory, provoking one another, envying one another, etc.; Galatians 5:25 which alternative if it be absurd, and the injunctions were meant equally for all, then it follows, that as these injunctions which relate to morals, so those warnings which relate to faith are meant equally for all; and just as it is unlawful for all to provoke one another, or to envy one another, so, likewise, it is unlawful for all to receive any other Gospel than that which the Catholic Church preaches everywhere.
[25.] Or perhaps the anathema pronounced on any one who should preach another Gospel than that which had been preached was meant for those times, not for the present. Then, also, the exhortation,
Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh, Galatians 5:16 was meant for those times, not for the present. But if it be both impious and pernicious to believe this, then it follows necessarily, that as these injunctions are to be observed by all ages, so those warnings also which forbid alteration of the faith are warnings intended for all ages. To preach any doctrine therefore to Catholic Christians other than what they have received never was lawful, never is lawful, never will be lawful: and to anathematize those who preach anything other than what has once been received, always was a duty, always is a duty, always will be a duty.
[26.] Which being the case, is there any one either so audacious as to preach any other doctrine than that which the Church preaches, or so inconstant as to receive any other doctrine than that which he has received from theChurch? That elect vessel, that teacher of the Gentiles, that trumpet of the apostles, that preacher whose commission was to the whole earth, that man who was caught up to heaven, 2 Corinthians 12:2 cries and cries again in his Epistles to all, always, in all places,
If any man preach any new doctrine, let him be accursed. On the other hand, an ephemeral, moribund set of frogs, fleas, and flies, such as the Pelagians, call out in opposition, and that to Catholics, Take our word, follow our lead, accept our exposition, condemn what you used to hold, hold what you used to condemn, cast aside the ancient faith, the institutes of your fathers, the trusts left for you by your ancestors and receive instead—what? I tremble to utter it: for it is so full of arrogance and self-conceit, that it seems to me that not only to affirm it, but even to refute it, cannot be done without guilt in some sort.
Why Eminent Men are permitted by God to become Authors of Novelties in the Church.
[27.] But some one will ask, How is it then, that certain excellent persons, and of position in the Church, are often permitted by God to preach novel doctrines to Catholics? A proper question, certainly, and one which ought to be very carefully and fully dealt with, but answered at the same time, not in reliance upon one’s own ability, but by the authority of the divine Law, and by appeal to the Church’s determination.
Let us listen, then, to Holy Moses, and let him teach us why learned men, and such as because of theirknowledge are even called Prophets by the apostle, are sometimes permitted to put forth novel doctrines, which the Old Testament is wont, by way of allegory, to call
strange gods, forasmuch as heretics pay the same sort of reverence to their notions that the Gentiles do to their gods.
[28.] Blessed Moses, then, writes thus in Deuteronomy:
If there arise among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams that is, one holding office as a Doctor in the Church, who is believed by his disciples or auditors to teach by revelation: well—what follows?
and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass whereof he spoke,— he is pointing to some eminent doctor, whose learning is such that his followers believe him not only to know things human, but, moreover, to foreknow things superhuman, such as, their disciples commonly boast, were Valentinus, Donatus, Photinus, Apollinaris, and the rest of that sort! What next?
And shall say to you, Let us go after other gods, whom you know not, and serve them. What are those other gods but strange errors which you know not, that is, new and such as were never heard of before?
And let us serve them; that is,
Let us believe them, follow them. What last?
You shall not hearken to the words of that prophet or dreamer of dreams. And why, I pray you, does not God forbid to be taught what God forbids to be heard?
For the Lord, your God, tries you, to know whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul. The reason is clearer than day why Divine Providence sometimes permits certain doctors of the Churches to preach new doctrines—
That the Lord your God may try you; he says. And assuredly it is a great trial when one whom you believe to be a prophet, a disciple of prophets, a doctor and defender of the truth, whom you have folded to your breast with the utmost veneration and love, when such a one of a sudden secretly and furtively brings in noxious errors, which you can neither quickly detect, being held by the prestige of former authority, nor lightly think it right to condemn, being prevented by affection for your old master.