PART 2: Rule of Faith by St. Vincent of Lerins
Sermon by Fr. Samuel Waters | The Daily Knight
The Rule of Faith concerns itself with protecting the Deposit of Faith (Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition). Christ gave His One True Church an Infallible Teaching Ministry. This Ministry was for the purpose of keeping the Catholic Church free from error, from false interpretation of Sacred Scripture. Protestants/ Heretics do not have this protection and that is why they have countless interpretations of Sacred Scripture (one Protestant Church opposes sodomy and another has no problem with sodomy, etc.).
St. Vincent of Lerins did not come up with the process of protecting Catholic Truth but he wrote it down and we can look at the process and realize why and how Catholic Truth is protected. He said that “by adhering to the Faith that has been believed everywhere, always, and by all, Catholic Truth is that which the entire world would have confessed in continuity with the Faith of our ancestors. Only the universal consent of the Church can assure that a teaching is indeed ancient. Being rooted in Sacred Scripture as an unshakable foundation to ensure that the Apostolic Teaching remains unsullied. The Catholic Church has the means and authority to separate Biblical Truth from error. We adhere to Antiquity, if we do not discard any interpretations shared by the venerable Holy Ones and by our Fathers.
The 2nd Rule presents us with the tension between the unchangeability of Catholic Doctrine and its proper growth. Catholic Doctrine is alive, it is always growing and developing. The growth and development however must be related to that which proceeded it. God continues to work in history guiding His Church to a fuller understanding of revealed Truth.
St. Vincent of Lerins used the example of a child’s growth into an adult to show how doctrine develops and remains true. St. Vincent of Lerins says “it is consolidated by years, developed over time rendered more sublime by time but it remains without corruption or alteration so that it is always complete and perfect in all dimensions and parts admitting no change, no basement of its unique characteristics, no variations within its defined limits, doctrine cannot change into something different in kind. Catholic Doctrine may be enlarged but this growth wherein the fundamental nature of previous teaching is not betrayed (Pope Francis’ comments about a soul that does not make it to heaven, he says that the soul just disappears). St. Vincent of Lerins goes onto describe a process by which the Catholic Church to preserve Catholic Truth and protect it from heresy which can only destroy Catholic Truth, destroy the Deposit of Faith.
St. Vincent writes that we must strengthen our belief by means of two aids: by the authority of Divine Law (Sacred Scripture) and by Sacred Tradition (Scriptures and Tradition = Deposit of Faith). He attests to the authority and sufficiency of God’s inspired word. However, he acknowledges and regrets that heretics too often turn to the Bible. Not all heretics interpret the scriptures with the same meaning. St. Vincent concludes that Scripture must be interrupted according to its Normative, Ecclesial and Catholic meaning. We can identify erroneous teachers and correct errors first by the Authority of Scripture and by some examples from Ecclesial Tradition. Scripture’s authority is primary and Ecclesiastical Tradition follows Scripture in authority. Tradition is always the Ecclesial understanding of Scripture.
When distinguishing Biblical Truth from blasphemous error, Authentic Theological Development from Illegitimate ones, St. Vincent of Lerins turns first to Sacred Scripture. Next for opposing profane and heretical innovations are the Ecumenical Councils. They represent the Universal Church, they ensure that Biblical interpretations are endorsed by the worldwide Catholic Rule of Faith everywhere, always by everyone. Wherever error “shows up” in any part of the Catholic Church, the Catholic will cling to Antiquity. It is possible sometimes to find in antiquity those who are in error. This is when the Catholic will always adhere to the decrees of an Ancient and Universal Council. Ecumenical Councils serve as the authoritative voice of the Church on disputed questions. They bear witness to the proper interpretation of the word of God. Catholics who want to remain free of heresy have two paths: 1- They should determine if from Antiquity something has been decreed by all Bishops of the Catholic Church with the authority of a universal council. The Church’s task is to consolidate and to strengthen Doctrine and to guard what has already been confirmed and defined.
If there should arise some new questions where this kind of decision is not found in the Ecumenical Councils, they should have recourse to the teachings of the Holy/Church Fathers. These are they who remain in their own time and place in the unity of Communion and of Faith and have been Masters of proven values. St. Vincent of Lerins tells us to turn to these “authorized masters” who through living at different times and places, stand united in the Communion and Faith of the Catholic Church. Theological/Church Fathers cannot be learned teachers only.
They must have remained in the Communion of Faith and be widely known for their learning and their Holiness of Life. The work of the Theological Fathers is 1- They are essential for ensuring faithful theological develop; 2- They are responsible for guarding the Deposit of Faith. This means they must be faithful transmitters of the Faith. They hand on what has been given to them.
St. Vincent of Lerins treats Bishops as a “Body of Teachers”, not individually. They as a body are “Timothy of today”. They protect the Deposit of Faith once delivered to the Saints. Teaching primarily through Ecumenical Councils, Bishops make-up a significant criterion for the for the proper interpretation of Scripture and represent an important role in staying true to St. Vincent of Levin’s Rules (1- Believed everywhere, always, by everyone: 2- Maintaining Catholic Truth as Doctrine develops) When a Bishop gives himself over to “novel ideas”, tragedy is the result.
The Catholic Faithful:
In separating Catholic Truth from heresy, one looks not only to Ecumenical Councils, Theological Fathers. One must also look on the understanding of the Faithful in general. St. Vincent says the entire body of the Faithful are to work to guard the Deposit of Faith (Bishops, Doctors, the Church Faithful and the Saints). A sure mark of error is when new and unheard-of Doctrine or new understandings are introduced, other than all or against all the guardians of the Deposit of the Faith. Antiquity must be preserved and development. They must be properly cultivated.
The Pope has his part to do in guarding and protecting the Deposit of Faith/Catholic Truth. The Pope has a two-fold responsibility: 1-He is to defend Antiquity (the Catholic understanding of the Scriptures, support of the Truths defined in Ecumenical Councils and the Theological Fathers and 2- To be an opponent to novel ideas that promote and bring about error in the Deposit of Faith).
Since Vatican Council II we have seen the introduction of “Novel Idea”, heretical understandings of Scripture, the ignoring of the Theological/ Church Fathers. We have seen multiple Popes promote novel ideas and promote error into Catholic Truth.
Note on the Synod on Synodality 2023:
This Synod is planning to formalize the adoption of heresy into Catholic Truth/ Deposit of Truth by approving new ideas and understanding of the Scriptures by ignoring Antiquity and not considering what has been believed: everywhere, always, by everyone.