Jeremy Taylor on Canon Law

After savaging the idea that councils are infallible for several pages, Bishop Taylor discussed canon law:

For 1) the popes of Rome have made innumerable decrees in the Decretum, Decretals, Bulls, Taxes, Constitutions, Clementines, and Extravagants. 2) They, as Albericus de Rosate, a great canonist, affirms, sometimes exalt their constitutions, and sometimes abase them, according to the times. And yet 3) all of them are verified and imposed under the same sanction by the council of Trent, {Session xxv. c. 20. [tom. x. col. 189]} all I say which were ever made in favor of ecclesiastical persons and the liberties of the church, which are indeed the greater part of all after Gratian’s decree; witness the Decretals of Gregory the ninth, Boniface the eight, the Collectio diversarum constitutionum et literarum Romanorum pontificum, and the Decretal epistles of the Roman bishops in three volumes, besides the Ecloga bullarum et motuum propriorum. All this is not only an intolerable burden to the christian churches, but a snare to consciences, and no man can tell by all this that is before him, whether he deserved love or hatred, whether he be in the state of mortal sin, of damnation, or salvation. But this is no new thing: more than this was decreed in the ancient canon law itself. Sic omnes apostolicæ sedis sanctiones accipiendæ sunt tanquam ipsius divini Petri voce firmatæ. And again, Ab omnibus quicquid statuit, quicquid ordinat, perpetuo et irrefragibiliter observandum est, ‘ all men must at all times with all submission observe all things whatsoever are decreed or ordained by the Roman church.’ Nay, licet vix ferendum, ‘although’ what that holy see imposes be as yet ‘scarce tolerable,’ yet let us bear it, and with holy devotion suffer it, says the canon ‘In memoriam.’ And that all this might indeed be an intolerable yoke, the canon ‘Nulli fas est’ adds the pope’s curse and final threatenings; Sit ergo ruinæ suæ dolore prostratus, quisquis apostolicis voluerit contraire decretis; and every one that obeys not the apostolical decrees is majoris excommunicationis dejectione abjiciendus: the canon is directed particularly against the clergy. And the gloss upon this canon affirms, that he who denies the pope’s power of making canons (viz., to oblige the church) is a heretic. Now considering that the Decree of Gratian is Concordantia discordantiarum, a heap or bundle of contrary opinions, doctrines and rules; and they agree no otherwise than a hyena and a dog catched in the same snare, or put into a bag; and that the decretals and extravagants are in very great parts of them nothing but boxes of tyranny and error, usurpation and superstition; only that upon those boxes they write ecclesia catholica, and that all these are commanded to be believed and observed respectively; and all gainsayers to be cursed and excommunicated; and that the twentieth part of them is not known to the christian world, and some are rejected, and some never accepted, and some slighted into desuetude, and some thrown off as being a load too heavy, and yet that there is no rule to discern these things; it must follow that matters of faith determined and recorded in the canon law, and the laws of manners there established, and the matter of salvation and damnation consequent to the observation or not observation of them, must needs be infinitely uncertain, and no man can from their grounds know what shall become of him.

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.