Vincent of Lerins

Vincent of Lerins a monk and priest, holds an important place in the dogmatics of the Church of Rome through his little book Commonitoria Duo pro Catholicae Fidei Antiquitate et. Universitate adv. Profanas Omnium Haereticorum Novitates; but history has preserved very little respecting the circumstances of his life, and that little is drawn simply from the preface of the Commonitorium and from a few scattered notices in Gennadius, De Viris Illustribus, ch. 6. He was a native of Gaul, became monk and priest at Lerins, lived under Theodosius II, and died in the reign of Valenitinian I, according to the Roman martyrology, May 23, A.D. 450. The Commonitorium was composed about three years subsequent to the Synod of Ephesus (Comm. ch. 42), or in 434, and shows, despite its quiet argumentative tone and the absence of any polemical reference, that it grew out of the conditions of the time in which the author lived. The draft of the greater part of the second book was stolen from the author, and its substance was consequently incorporated by him in the first. There are also still in existence sixteen Observationes Vincentianae against Augustine's predestinationism, to which Prosper of Aquitania responded (Augustine, Opp. 10 App. p. 1843 sq.), and which may have been written by his pen.

The question which engaged the thought of the Church in the time of Vincent was the contest between Semi-Pelagianism and strict Augustinism, and this fact furnishes the key to the interpretation of the Commonitorieum (comp. ch. 37 "Magna et specialis ae plane personalis quaedam sit Dei gratia, adeo ut sine ullo labore, sine ullo studio, sine ulla industria, etiamsi nec petant, nec quserant, nec pulsent, quicunque illi ad numerum suum pertinent-nunquam possint offendere ad lapidem pedem suum, id est nunquam scandalizari;" and also ch. 14 "Quia magna pars illa Christianorum Catholicorum fidelium atque sanctorum, quse ad ruinam et perditionem praedestinata est, etiamsi petat a Deo sanctitatis perseverentiam, non impetrabit"). A further key to the motive of the book is found in the fact that monasticism did not take kindly to Augustinism, and that in Southern Gaul especially it was, penetrated with the views and spirit of the Eastern Church, of which statements Hilary of Arles (q.v.), who came forth from Lerins, and Faustus of Reji, who was perhaps the abbot of Lerins when Vincent wrote his book, are in proof.

The Commonitorium begins with demanding an objective guarantee for the truth, and finds the required criterion in Scripture and the tradition of the Catholic Church, the latter being necessary because of diversities of interpretation of the former. This position marked the result of the conflicts by which the Church had progressed thus far in shaping its own constitution and in forming the New Test. canon. But then comes the question, Does tradition itself require a criterion by which it may be tested? How determine what is and what is not Catholic? Is there a completed canon of tradition as there is a canon of Scripture? Vincent responds with the rule, now famous, that we must be chiefly concerned "ut id teneamus quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est." He is, however, disposed to overrate the worth of antiquity, and to search rather for that which was held by the ancients than for that which is true; and he fails to remember that antiquity, within the pale of the Catholic Church itself, was divided upon many questions, though he gives the definition that what a majority of sacerdotes and magistri have determined is Catholic. He requires even councils to legitimate themselves by the tests of universitas and antiquitas, and argues that the Catholic body of doctrine is an organism which grows, but affords place to nothing that is absolutely new; and then he applies the principles he has labored to establish to destroy the infallibility of certain great ones who have made use of the confidence with which they were regarded to introduce novel teachings into the Church the object of his attack being assuredly none other than the great bishop of Hippo, whose reputation excelled even that of the Roman bishop. In a word, Vincent endeavors to find in antiquity a protection against the arbitrary spirit of the ecclesiastical powers of the present. The weakness in the scheme of Vincent is the disregard of the fact that the consent of antiquity cannot be established unless the factor of interpretation be applied to tradition itself. He accordingly failed to take the step in advance, which logical consistency required, of making the Church itself the court of last appeal. The Jesuitism of our day has satisfied this demand of logic, but at the cost of sacrificing the rule of Vincent, as may be seen in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, etc. Vincent marks a turning-point in the dogmatic spirit of the Church. No previous teacher had so explicitly insisted on a purely outward guarantee for the truth. The fathers had, even in their strongest utterances, manifested confidence in the abiding presence of the Spirit with the Church. The feeling that the Spirit has departed from the Church finds its first pronounced expression here, and this specifically Romish doctrine is thus shown to have had its origin in the Semi- Pelagianism of our monk's attack on Augustinism.

Editions of Vincent were published by Baluzius, Coster, and Kliipfel-the latter in Augsburg, 1843. Concerning him, see Tillemont, Mimoires, 15:143-147; Dupin, Nouvelle Biblioth. 4, 114 sq.; Cave, Hist. Lit. 1, 425; Elpelt, Des heil. Vinc. 5. Lerinum Ermahnungsbuch, sein Leben u. s. Lehre (Breslau, 1840); Vossius, Hist. Pelagiana, p. 575; Norisius, Hist. Pelagiana, 2, 2, 3, 11; Walch, Ketzergesch.; Wiggers, Augustinismus u. Semipelag. 2, 195,208-216; Baur, Das Christenthum vom 4. bis zum 6. Jahrhundert; Gengler, in the Quartalschr. fur kathol. Theologie, 1833, p. 579; Kollner, Symbolik d. kathol. Kirche. — Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.

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