AUTHOR'S PREFACE (CONT.)
In reading the Fathers, should one chance to come upon some doubtful or ambiguous statement in any of them, the general rule to be followed is, to explain his words as far as possible according to the common concordant sense of the other Fathers' teaching. But where a real discrepancy from the common teaching is discovered, it will be found on mature examination that such error has resulted from the obscurity of the subject-matter, on which nothing had as yet been defined, * or which had not been sufficiently thrashed out by more prolonged discussion. On verities that are fundamental no real discrepancy of this kind will have place. +
Whilst all revealed truths contained in the divine deposit had their place in the primitive Church, they may be said in a certain sense to have been for a time more or less held in solution. To use a perhaps too homely metaphor, the age of the earlier Fathers was the time of churning. By means of the agitation of heretics, and the doctrinal discussions of the Fathers, the several truths of faith were going through the process of coagulation, that so they might be shaped into dogmas and fixed in conciliary definitions. Formal dogmatic definitions were few at that date. Certain broad lines for general guidance were well known, such as Tertullian's rule of Prescription, and those principles which find their expression in the dicta of S. Augustine and S. Vincent of Lerins, "Securus judicat orbis terrarum," "Roma locuta est, causa finita est," "Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus"; or again, what first paved the way for the condemnation of Nestorius, the voice of the ecclesia discens, at Constantinople, whereby the old adage, "Vox populi, vox Dei," is illustrative of the Faithful in the Catholic Church.
But principles such as these, however true, were too broad for immediate practical application to every difficult question that might arise, and hence some divergency of longer or shorter continuance on certain points that were afterwards definitely settled, was the inevitable result.
4. Another difficulty in the works of the early Fathers is that many of them are held to be spurious and unauthentic, whilst the genuineness of others is disputed. I leave the discussion in all cases to the judgment of learned critics. My general rule has been to make my quotations from writings the authenticity of which is commonly acknowledged. Sometimes, however, I have cited works of doubtful genuineness, or which, at any rate, were not written as we now have them by the Fathers to whom they are attributed, but whose date, as assigned to them by critics, falls within the first six centuries, to which period I confine myself. When I quote from a doubtful or unauthentic work, or depart exceptionally from this general rule, I note the fact.
Some modern writers appear to treat such unauthentic works as of no value at all, and even as though their doubtfulness or spuriousness of itself formed a positive argument against doctrines and practices to the existence of which they bear testimony: whereas the truth is, that regarded simply as witnesses their evidence on these matters is of an authority equal to that of any genuine writings with which they are coeval. But besides this: it is held as highly probable by the learned, that many even of those treatises and sermons, which, from intrinsic evidence of language and style, criticism has justly decided to be certainly unauthentic, were yet substantially the utterances of the Fathers whose names they bear, and were composed in their present form by disciples or admiring auditors from notes or memory. In any case it would be very difficult to account for the early and general acceptance of such writings as genuine, unless they really reflected and were in full accord with what was known to be the teaching of the Fathers who were credited with their authorship.
* "We must regard it," says Fr. Perrone, "as having happened, not without a special Providence, that very many (plurima) truths do but lie hid implexly and adumbratively in the revealed word: viz., in order that the faithful might thence more feel the necessity of the Church's living and infallible magisterium." Treatise on the definableness of the Immac. Conception of the B.V.M. Part ii., ch. i.