Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. II. Ben Jonson to Dryden
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden
 
Tradition (from Religio Laici)
By John Dryden (1631–1700)
 

  MUST all tradition then be set aside?
This to affirm were ignorance or pride.
Are there not many points, some needful sure
To saving faith, that Scripture leaves obscure,
Which every sect will wrest a several way?        5
For what one sect interprets, all sects may.
We hold, and say we prove from Scripture plain,
That Christ is GOD; the bold Socinian
From the same Scripture urges he ’s but MAN.
Now what appeal can end the important suit?        10
Both parts talk loudly, but the rule is mute.
  Shall I speak plain, and in a nation free
Assume an honest layman’s liberty?
I think, according to my little skill,
To my own mother Church submitting still,        15
That many have been saved, and many may,
Who never heard this question brought in play.
The unlettered Christian, who believes in gross,
Plods on to Heaven and ne’er is at a loss;
For the strait gate would be made straiter yet,        20
Were none admitted there but men of wit.
The few by Nature formed, with learning fraught,
Born to instruct, as others to be taught,
Must study well the sacred page; and see
Which doctrine, this or that, does best agree        25
With the whole tenour of the work divine,
And plainliest points to Heaven’s revealed design;
Which exposition flows from genuine sense,
And which is forced by wit and eloquence.
Not that tradition’s parts are useless here,        30
When general, old, disinteressed, and clear:
That ancient Fathers thus expound the page
Gives truth the reverend majesty of age,
Confirms its force by biding every test,
For best authorities, next rules, are best;        35
And still the nearer to the spring we go,
More limpid, more unsoiled, the waters flow.
Thus, first traditions were a proof alone,
Could we be certain such they were, so known:
But since some flaws in long descent may be,        40
They make not truth but probability.
Even Arius and Pelagius durst provoke
To what the centuries preceding spoke.
Such difference is there in an oft-told tale,
But truth by its own sinews will prevail.        45
Tradition written, therefore, more commends
Authority than what from voice descends:
And this, as perfect as its kind can be,
Rolls down to us the sacred history:
Which, from the Universal Church received,        50
Is tried, and after for its self believed.
 
 
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