(1.) in matters religious and ecclesiastical, an assumed right of dictation, attributed to certain fathers, councils, or church courts. On this subject Bishop Hoadley writes: "Authority is the greatest and most irreconcilable enemy to truth and argumlent that this world ever furnished. All the sophistry — all the color of plausibility — all the artifice and cunning of the subtlest disputer in the world may be laid open and turned to the advantage of that very truth which they are designed to hide; but against authority there is no defense." He shows that it was authority which crushed the noble sentiments of Socrates and others, and that by authority the Jews and heathens combated the truth of the Gospel; and that, when Christians increased into a majority, and came to think the same method to be the only proper one for the advantage of their cause which had been the enemy and destroyer of it, then it was the authority of Christians, which, by degrees, not only laid waste the honor of Christianity, but well-nigh extinguished it among men. It was authority which would have prevented all reformation where it is, and which has put a barrier against it wherever it is not. The remark of Charles II. is worthy of notice-that those of the established faith make much of the authority of the church in their disputes with dissenters, but that they take it all away when they deal with papists. — Buck, Theol. Dict. s.v.
(2.) In a proper sense, by the "authority of the church" is meant either the power' residing generally in the whole body of the faithful to execute the trust committed by Christ to his church, or the particular power residing in certain official members of that body. The first-named authority is vested in the clergy and laity jointly; the latter in the clergy alone. In the interpretation of Scripture for any particular church, that church's authority does not belong to all divines or "distinguished theologians" who may be members of the church, but only to the authorized formularies. Single writers of every age are to be taken as expressing only their individual opinions. The agreement of these opinions at any one period, or for any lengthened space of time, may and must be used as proof to ourselves, privately, as to the predominant sentiments of the church at that time, but no opinions can be quoted as deciding authoritatively any disputed question. The universal church deserves deference in all controversies of faith; and every particular church has a right to decree such rights and ceremonies as are not contrary to God's written word; but no church has a right to enforce any thing as necessary for salvation, unless it can be shown so to be by the express declaration of Holy Scripture. See the 20th and 34th Articles of the Church of England, and the 5th and 22d of the Methodist Episcopal Church. SEE RULE OF FAITH; SEE TRADITION.