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  • WORKS OF ARMINIUS - ON COUNCILS


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    DISPUTATION LVIII

    ON COUNCILS

    I. An ecclesiastical council is an assembly of men gathered together in the name of God, consulting and defining or settling, according to the word of God, about those things which pertain to religion and the good of the church, for the glory of God and the salvation of the church.

    II. The power of appointing an assembly of this kind resides in the church herself. If she is under the sway of a Christian magistrate, who makes an open profession of religion, or who publicly tolerates it, then we transfer this power to such a magistrate, without whose convocation, those persons that protested to the church concerning the nullity of the Council of Trent have maintained that a council is illegitimate. But if the magistrate is neither a believer, nor publicly tolerates religion, but is an enemy and a persecutor, then those who preside in the church will discharge that office.

    III. An occasion will be afforded for convening an assembly of this kind, either by some evil men who are an annoyance to the church, whether they be in the church or out of it, or even the perpetual constitution of the church so long as she continues on earth. For as she is liable to error, corruption, and defection from the truth of doctrine, from the purity of divine worship, from moral probity and from Christian concord, to heresies, idolatry, corruption of manners, and schisms, it is useful for assemblies of this kind to be instituted. Yet may they be instituted, not only to correct any corruption if it manifestly appears that it has entered, but likewise to inquire whether something of the kind has not entered; because the enemy sows tares while the men sleep, to whom is entrusted the safe custody of the Lord's field.

    IV. We say that this is an assembly of men; for, "Let a woman. keep silence in the church, unless she has an extraordinary and divine call; and we say, these men ought to be distinguished by the following marks: First. That they be powerful in the Scriptures, and have their senses exercised in them. Secondly. That they be pious, grave, prudent, moderate, and-lovers of divine truth and of the peace of the church. Thirdly. That they be free, and bound down to no person, church, or confession written by men, but only to God and Christ, and to his word.

    V. They are men, whether of the ecclesiastical or of the political class -- in the first place, the supreme magistrate himself, and those persons who discharge any public office in the church and the republic. Then, also, private individuals, even those persons not being excluded who maintain some other [doctrine] than that which is the current opinion, provided they be furnished with the endowments which I have described. (Thesis 4.) And we are of opinion that such persons may deliver not only a deliberative but likewise a decisive sentence.

    VI. The object about which the council will be engaged is, the things appertaining to religion and to the good of the church as such. These are comprised under two chief heads-the primary, comprehending the doctrine, itself, of faith, hope, and charity, and the secondary, the order and polity of the church.

    VII. The rule, according to which deliberation must be instituted, and decision must be formed, is that single and sole one -- the word of God, who holds absolute dominion in the church. But in things which belong to the good order and eutaxian the discipline of the church, it is allowable for the members attentively to consider the present state of the commonwealth and of the church, and to exercise deliberation and form decisions according to the circumstances of places, times and persons, provided one thing be guarded against-to determine nothing contrary to the word of God.

    VIII. But, because all things in assemblies of this kind ought to be done in order, it is requisite that some one preside over the whole council. If the chief magistrate be present, this office belongs to him; but he can devolve this charge on some other person, whether an ecclesiastic or layman; nay, he may commit this matter to the council itself, provided he take care that all and each of the members be restrained within the bounds of their duty, lest their judgments be concluded in a tumultuous manner. But it is useful that some bishop be appointed, who may perform the offices of prayer and thanksgiving, may propose the business to be transacted, and may inquire and collect the opinions and votes; indeed, so far, he, as an ecclesiastic, is the more suitable for fulfilling these duties.

    IX. A place must be appointed for assemblies of this kind, that they may be most commodious to all those who shall come to the synod, unless it be the pleasure of the chief magistrate to choose that place which will be the most convenient to himself. It ought to be a place secure from ambuscade or hostile surprise; and a safe conduct is necessary for all persons, that they may arrive and depart again, without personal detriment, as far as is allowable by the law of God itself, against which the authority of no council, however great, is of the least avail.

    X. The authority of councils is not absolute, but dependent on the authority of God; for this reason, no one is simply bound to assent to those things which have been decreed in a council, unless those persons be present, as members, who cannot err, and who have the undoubted marks and testimonies of the Holy Spirit to this fact. But every one may, nay, he is bound, to examine, by the word of God, those things which have been concluded in the council; and if he finds them to be agreeable to the divine word, then he may approve of them; but if they are not, then he may express his disapprobation. Yet he must be cautious not easily to reject that which has been determined by the unanimous consent of so many pious and learned men; but he ought diligently to consider, whether it has the Scriptures pronouncing in favour of it with sufficient clearness; and when this is the case, he may yield his assent, in the Lord, to their unanimous agreement.

    XI. The necessity of councils is not absolute, because the church can be instructed respecting necessary things without them. Yet their utility is very great, if, being instituted in the name of the Lord, they examine all things according to his word, and appoint that which, by common consent, according to that rule, the members have thought proper to pronounce as their decision. For, as many eyes see more than one eye, and as the Lord is accustomed to listen to the prayers of a number who agree together among themselves on earth, it is more probable that the truth will be discovered and confirmed from the Scriptures by some council consisting of many learned and pious men, than by the exertions of a single individual transacting the same business privately by himself. From these premises, we also say that the authority of any council is greater than that of any man who is present at such council, even that of the Roman pontiff, to whom we ascribe no other right in any council, than that which we give to any bishop, even at the time when he performed with fidelity the duties of a true bishop. So far, are we disinclined to believe, that no council can be convened and held without his command, presidency and direction.

    XIII. No council can prescribe to its successors, that they may not again deliberate about that which has been transacted and determined in preceding councils; because the matter of religion does not come under the denomination of a thing that is prejudged; neither can any council bind itself, by an oath, to the observance of any other word than that of God; much less can it make positive laws, to which it may bind either itself, or any man, by an oath.

    XIV. It is also allowable for a later ecumenical or general council to call in doubt that which had been decreed by a preceding general council, because it is possible even for general councils to err; nor yet does it follow from these premises that the catholic church errs; that is, that all the faithful universally err.

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