Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
All Differences Do Not Involve Schism
By John Hales (15841656)
From A Tract concerning Schism and Schismatics
IT hath been the common disease of Christians from the beginning, not to content themselves with that measure of faith, which God and the Scriptures have expressly afforded us; but out of a vain desire to know more than is revealed, they have attempted to discuss things, of which we can have no light, neither from reason nor revelation: neither have they rested here, but upon pretence of church authority, which is none, or tradition, which for the most part is but figment; they have peremptorily concluded, and confidently imposed upon others, a necessity of entertaining conclusions of that nature; and to strengthen themselves, have broken out into divisions and factions, opposing man to man, synod to synod, till the peace of the church vanished, without all possibility of recall. Hence arose those ancient and many separations amongst Christians occasioned by Arianism, Eutychianism, Nestorianism, Photinianism, Sabellianism, and many more both ancient and in our time; all which indeed are but names of schism, howsoever in the common language of the fathers, they were called heresies. For heresy is an act of the will, not of reason; and is indeed a lie, not a mistake: else how could that known speech of Austin go for true: Errare possum, hæreticus esse nolo? Indeed, Manichæism, Valentinianism, Marcionism, Mahometanism, are truly and properly heresies; for we know that the authors of them received them not, but minted them themselves, and so knew that which they taught to be a lie. But can any man avouch that Arius and Nestorius, and others that taught erroneously concerning the Trinity, or the person of our Saviour, did maliciously invent what they taught, and not rather fall upon it by error and mistake? Till that be done, and that upon good evidence, we will think no worse of all parties than needs we must, and take these rents in the church to be at the worst but schisms upon matter of opinion. In which case what we are to do, is not a point of any great depth of understanding to discover, so be distemper and partiality do not intervene. I do not yet see, that opinionum varietas, et opinantium unitas, are [Greek];1 or that men of different opinions in Christian religion, may not hold communion in sacris, and both go to one church. Why may I not go, if occasion require, to an Arian church, so there be no Arianism expressed in their liturgy? And were liturgies and public forms of service so framed as that they admitted not of particular and private fancies, but contained only such things, as in which all Christians do agree, schisms on opinion were utterly vanished. For consider of all the liturgies that are or ever have been, and remove from them whatsoever is scandalous to any party, and leave nothing but what all agree on; and the event shall be, that the public service and honour of God shall no ways suffer: whereas to load our public forms with the private fancies upon which we differ, is the most sovereign way to perpetuate schism unto the worlds end. Prayer, confession, thanksgiving, reading of Scriptures, exposition of Scripture, administration of sacraments in the plainest and simplest manner, were matter enough to furnish out a sufficient liturgy, though nothing either of private opinion, or of church pomp, of garments, of prescribed gestures, of imagery, of music, of matter concerning the dead, of many superfluities, which creep into the churches under the name of order and decency, did interpose itself. For to charge churches and liturgies with things unnecessary, was the first beginning of all superstition; and when scruples of conscience began to be made or pretended, then schisms began to break in. If the spiritual guides and fathers of the Church would be a little sparing of incumbering churches with superfluities, and not over rigid, either in reviving obsolete customs, or imposing new, there were far less danger of schism or superstition; and all the inconvenience were likely to ensue would be but this, they should in so doing yield a little to the imbecilities of inferiors, a thing which St. Paul would never have refused to do. Meanwhile, wheresoever false or suspected opinions are made a piece of the church-liturgy, he that separates is not the schismatic; for it is alike unlawful to make profession of known or suspected falsehoods, as to put in practice unlawful or suspected actions.