Jeremy Taylor on Church Councils

In The Whole Works of Jeremy Taylor, Volume VI, “Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament, Dissuasive from Popery, etc.”, Taylor discusses church councils in an extensive fashion. He says in part:

There are divers general council that though they were such, yet they are rejected by almost all the christian world. It ought not to be said that these are not general councils because they were conventions of heretical persons, for if a council can consist of heretical persons (as by this instance it appears it may) then a general council is no sure rule or ground of faith. And all those councils which Bellarmine calls ‘reprobate’ are so many proofs of this. For whatever can be said against the council of Ariminum; yet they cannot say but it consisted of DC. bishops, and therefore it was as general as any ever was before it; but the faults that are found with it prove more; first, that a general council binds not till it be accepted by the churches, and therefore that all its authority depends on them, and they do not depend upon it; and secondly, that there are some general councils which are so far from being infallible, that they are directly false, schismatical, and heretical. And if when the churches are divided in a question, and the communion, like the question, is in flux and reflux; when one side prevails greatly, they get a general council on their side, and prevail by it; but lose as much when the other side play the same game in the day of their advantages. And it will be to no purpose to tell me of any collateral advantages that this council hath more than another council; for though I believe so, yet others do not, and their council is as much a general council to them as our council it to us. And therefore, if general councils are the rule and law of faith in those things they determine, then all that is to be considered in this affair, is whether they be general councils. Whether they say true or no, is not now the question, but is to be determined by this, viz., whether are they general councils or no; for relying upon their authority for the truth, if they be satisfied that they are general councils, that they speak and determine truth will be consequent and allowed. Now then if this be the question, then since divers general councils are reprobated, the consequent is that although they be general councils, yet they may be reproved. And if a catholic producing the Nicene council be met by an Arian producing the council of Ariminum, which was far more numerous; here are

—aquilis aquilæ et pila minantia pilis; [“of eagles matched and javelins threatening javelins.” From Lucan’s Civil War, Book One, 7]

but who shall prevail? If a general council be the rule and guide, they will both prevail; that is, neither. And it ought not to be said by the catholic, ‘Yea, but our council determined for the truth, but yours for error,’ for the Arian will say so too. But whether they do or no, yet it is plain that they may both say so: and if they do, then we do not find the truth out by the conduct and decision of a general council; but we approve this general, because upon other accounts we believe that what is there defined is true…Both sides pretend to general councils: that which both equally pretend to, will help neither; therefore let us go to scripture.

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