I. This expression, borrowed from the civil law, has in the Roman Catholic Church a canonistic meaning. In order to put limits to the contests about mine and thine in rights, obligations, and possessions, that Church has fixed terms which invest with legality the possession of rights and goods, unless proof be produced that these rights or goods are of an alienable kind, or have been acquired by illegal means (usurpation or theft time does not consecrate). If the lawful term be elapsed, the possessor is confirmed in the possession of said rights or goods, and he who is bound by certain obligations cannot call them in question. 'The term of prescription varies with the nature of the object: movable property prescribes quicker than immovable, the property of adults quicker than that of minors, the property of those present quicker than that of absentees; ecclesiastical property is prescribed only after forty years. According to the rules of the papal chancery, the possessor of an ecclesiastical office, after a three years' possession, if it be not obtained by violence or simony, cannot be lawfully expelled from it. There is prescription in his favor.
II. Tertullian transplanted this expression to the theological domain by his work on prescriptions against heretics, a kind of argument against erroneous doctrine. This is what he means: The Catholic Church enjoys, in her doctrines and discipline, the right of prescription; what she teaches and practices at the present hour she has taught and practiced from times immemorial-learned it from the apostles, as the apostles learned from Christ, as Christ had it from the Father. The catholic doctrine is the true one, because it is the old and original one, and rests on the divine revelation; the doctrines of heretics and sectarians, on the other side, are false, because new, because they have not prescription in their favor, and consequently are not founded on divine revelation. Irenaeus taught similarly. It is easy to see that this proof by prescription is much the same as the proof by tradition, and that this mode of arguing can have no acceptability in Protestantism, where the Bible alone is regarded as the true test, and the apostolic or early Church practices have only an advisory influence, not authority. Of course, High-Churchmen, by their ritualistic tendency, can hardly be said to come under the full influence of Protestantism, and are therefore not to be considered as included in the exponents of evangelical Christianity. See Elliott, Delineation of Roman Catholicism, p. 61, 95, 407. SEE AUTHORITY.
PRESCRIPTION is also a law adopted in Presbyterian churches. If a scandal is not noticed for five years after it happens, it cannot be revived, but is then said to be prescribed.