Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and is in itself abundantly sufficient, what need is there to join to it the interpretation of the Church? The answer is that because of the very depth of Scripture all men do not place one identical interpretation upon it. The statements of the same writer are explained by different men in different ways, so much so that it seems almost possible to extract from it as many opinions as there are men. Novatian expounds in one way, Sabellius in another, Donatus in another, Arius, Eunomius and Macedonius in another, Photinus, Apollinaris and Priscillian in another, Jovinian, Pelagius and Caelestius in another, and latterly Nestorius in another. Therefore, because of the intricacies of error, which is so multiform, there is great need for the laying down of a rule for the exposition of Prophets and Apostles in accordance with the standard of the interpretation of the Church Catholic.

-From The Vincentian Canon of St. Vincent of Lerins, written circa 434

Sometimes, I think St. Vincent has a point. I look around, and I see a lot of interpretive malfeasance going on in the Christian world. But if Holy Tradition plays an interpretive role, how do we define Tradition? Councils? There were anti-Councils with plenty of bishops in attendance; heck, Nestorianism was affirmed in council.

This is not to say that I reject the idea of or dogmas promulgated at the ecumenical councils, or  St. Vincent’s advice about cleaving back to antiquity. But there’s a saying I heard from some Orthodox guys that stays in the back of my mind — 100 percent of the early church fathers are in agreement 85 percent of the time.

Understanding the church’s history is important, but I’m just not comfortable granting a charism of infallibility to anyone (even a collective anyone). Fifteen percent is a lot of wiggle room.

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