CHRISTIAN REVELATION GIVEN ONCE FOR ALL
"All subsequent definitions of faith are simply the unravelling of matter given by the Apostles. Their state of mind was quite different from that of their successors. Theirs was what we may call inspiration; after them the teachers of the Church had only that special guidance of the Holy Spirit which was promised them by Christ. The Apostolic teaching, then, was not only the first link in a chain; it was that out of which all the developments came, and in which all were implicitly contained. Hence it seems to follow that the Apostles must have had especially in their minds all the future definitions of faith, though not, of course, necessarily in the same terms. They must have so framed their teaching that it was capable of all subsequent developments... Thus if the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Lady was a part of the original deposit given by Christ to His Apostles, it must have been clearly before the intellect of Peter. Furthermore, since there has been no subsequent revelation to the Church, that truth must have been transmitted to their successors at least in such a shape that without any extraordinary spiritual interposition it can be extracted from the propositions left with them. Besides this, these propositions must have in some way reached the understanding of the teaching body of the Church. In other words, the truth must have been really contained in the explicit teaching of the Apostles, and have been really known by their successors at least implicitly. All this seems to flow from the very primary notion of Christianity as a revelation given once for all."*
Protestants, when controverting the doctrinal developments of the Catholic Church, are used to set much store by the well-known aphorism, Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus. In order to show how ill this saying is often understood, and how much it is misapplied, we think it well to quote at some length from the Commonitorium of S. Vincent of Lerins in which it occurs, and thus let the Saint himself explain the meaning of his own words. We would first, however, say something about the author, the scope of his work, and the circumstances under which it was written.+
S. Vincent of Lerins was a monk and a simple priest who lived during the fifth century. After being engaged, as it appears, in the military service, he retired into a monastery, and devoted himself entirely to piety and the study of Divine things. He wrote his Commonitorium, not indeed with the idea of laying down rules for the teaching body of the Church to follow when pronouncing decisions in matters of faith or morals, but for the security of his own faith, by recalling and having at hand the admonitions of holy men as to how private individuals and the simple faithful should behave in presence of prevalent heresies. The following are S. Vincent's own words: --
"It is enough for me, in order to help my memory or rather my forgetfulness, to have gathered together the Commonitory, which however, by calling to mind what in past time I have learned, I will endeavour with God's grace daily to correct and make more perfect. And this I have thought good for premise, that should this work of mine chance to get abroad and fall into the hands of holy persons, they may not over-hastily find fault with what they see in it, and which I promise ere long with later corrections to amend and improve."++
S. Vincent's object was to enable himself a simple monk, to discern the truth from the false teaching of heretics, on points about which no decree of a General Council could be found. Only three General Councils had been held up to that time; the first at Nicaea in 325, the second at Constantinople in 381, and the third at Ephesus in 431. And these Councils had not intended to declare in detail all that had been revealed, but only to affirm certain truths against contemporary heretics. He thus continues: --
+ See Change in Faith, or Development. A Critical Exposition of S. Vincent of Lerins's Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus, by C. Tondini de Quarengi, Barnabite. London, Hodges, 1881. From which we have here made some extracts.