Why should I listen to Vincent of Lerins?

It’s all very well, I suppose, to say (as I do here) that St. Vincent recommends we turn to Scripture and tradition to learn what orthodoxy is, and all very well to figure out how to do this in today’s context.

But why should we listen to him?

I had originally envisaged this post beginning with a brief reminder the fact that most, if not all, Christians call upon us to listen to the voice of Scripture, and then moving on to a brief summary and discussion of the venerable line of teachers who call upon us to heed tradition, a venerable line beginning with Paul and moving through such luminaries as St. Irenaeus and St. Leo the Great, within which St. Vincent of Lérins stands.

But, really, tradition is a bit of a hairy beast.


I mean, it’s true that tradition includes the prayerful application of human resources to the Scriptures out of which can come beautiful things like St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae or the Cappadocians’ Trinitarian thought or the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom or a Tridentine Mass or the Daily Office or stained glass in cruciform Gothic churches.

But some of the things that come down the pipeline in tradition leave me scratching my head at times; they certainly help keep me on the Protestant side of things.

  • Caves full of wax babies offered to an icon of the Theotokos by people suffering from infertility.
  • Stories involving talking beasts who get baptised.
  • Prayers and invocations of saints.
  • Transubstantiation (in the West).
  • The sacrifice of the Mass.
  • The Assumption of the BVM.
  • The Perpetual Virginity of the BVM.
  • Crowning the BVM Queen of Heaven (in the West).
  • Purgatory (in the West).
  • Also in the West: the Pope.

These are just off the top of my head, mind you. Some are not necessarily deal breakers — I am willing to concede the possibility of the Mother of the Lord having been assumed into heaven or having been a perpetual virgin; I simply refuse them as being necessary beliefs. Just because something is traditional, why ought I to believe it?

This, then, I guess, is where Augustine Casiday’s quotation about tradition being a creative fidelity to one’s origins is so compelling — it includes room for creativity. It leaves space for reason. It also means taking tradition as handed down (entrusted being our other definition) to us seriously.

Thus, I am a traditionalist enough to enjoy Conciliar Triadology and Christology, but partly on the basis of prayerful reason and some knowledge of the Arian, Nestorian, Miaphysite positions, thus believing that it is orthodoxy because it is the most biblically faithful and philosophically coherent position. No doubt the Arians, Nestorians, and Miaphysites would hotly contest this position — it would take a book, not a blog, to expound why and how I feel and believe and think this way.

I am a cautious traditionalist, though; not all new liturgies or translations are necessarily bad (they often are, if only on aesthetic grounds). New hymns can go to the same depths and heights as old ones (not that they always do). New theologians can expound fantastic, glorious truths about God and the universe (contemporary theologians I like? NT Wright and Miroslav Volf if we aren’t bringing the Orthodox or the dead into this). New religious art can bring vibrancy and truth to darksome places, to places where the traditional is no longer comprehended (but I do love stained glass and icons!).

4 thoughts on “Why should I listen to Vincent of Lerins?

  1. “Stories involving talking beasts who get baptised.”

    Well, there is a talking ass in Numbers.

    “The Assumption of the BVM.”

    Elijah and Enoch were both translated bodily into heaven. Would you allow your mother to rot in the ground if you were God? I think not.

    “The sacrifice of the Mass.”

    The language of sacrifice was attached to the divine liturgy from the earliest days of Christianity. It can be found in the Didache, Ignatius, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Hippolytus, Origen. It is the heart of every single one of the ancient liturgies, western and eastern.

    Granted, this idea changed somewhat over time, and was perhaps at a low point in the 16th century. Nonetheless, the Protestants fundamentally misunderstood what Catholics and Orthodox — that is, the entire ancient, orthodox faith — mean when they say that the liturgy is sacrificial.

    “Crowning the BVM Queen of Heaven (in the West)”

    This is simply a corollary of the true humanity of Jesus, who is the New David, the King of Israel — indeed, the King of the Cosmos. His mother is therefore the Queen Mother.

  2. Re the talking beasts — I don’t think they’re very abundant in accepted tradition anyway; I just know of them via Acts of Philip. And, while a lot of asses have been baptised, Balaam’s wasn’t one of them.

    Re Assumption of BVM — it’s not the concept that bothers me, it’s making it a required belief. I think people should be free to believe it if they choose.

    My thoughts on rejection of the sacrifice of the mass revolve around the 16th century, not, say, John Chrysostom or the earlier fathers.

    Crowning Mary Queen of Heaven. Once again, a theoretical possibility. Once again, an unnecessary burden laid upon people who should have freedom on the issue.

    In fact, my main problem with the Roman dogmas surrounding that sort of thing is that, sure, it’s a logical possibility, but why keep enshrining it? Despite the official lines about the Mother of Our Lord and all suchlike, I can’t shake this Protestant fear that a lot of people misplace their devotion because they don’t understand or haven’t even been instructed in the basics of why the Church teaches these things.

    • Of course, those concerns are still a bit of a long journey from ‘knee-jerk-anti-Catholic-natural-response-Protestantism’ such as I would have had about the same issues 10 years ago! So there’s hope for me yet. 😉

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