Here a reference to Bunsens Hippolytus, vol. III., so often referred to in the former volume, will be useful. A slight metaphrase will bring out the sense, perhaps, of this most interesting portrait of early Christian usages.
In baptism, we use trine immersion, in honour of the trinal Name, after renouncing the devil and his angels and the pomps and vanities of his kingdom. 445 But this trinal rite is a ceremonial amplification of what is actually commanded. It was heretofore tolerated in some places that communicants should take each one his portion, with his own hand, but now we suffer none to receive this sacrament except at the hand of the minister. By our Lords own precept and example, it may be received at the hour of ordinary meals, and alike by all the faithful whether men or women, yet we usually do this in our gatherings before daybreak. Offerings are made in honour of our departed friends, on the anniversaries of their deaths, which we esteem their true birthdays, as they are born to a better life. We kneel at other times, but on the Lords day, and from the Paschal Feast to Pentecost we stand in prayer, nor do we count it lawful to fast on Sundays. We are concerned if even a particle of the wine or bread, made ours, in the Lords Supper, falls to the ground, by our carelessness. In all the ordinary occasions of life we furrow our foreheads with the sign of the Cross, in which we glory none the less because it is regarded as our shame by the heathen in presence of whom it is a profession of our faith.
p. 104 He owns there is no Scripture for any of these usages, in which there was an amplifying of the precepts of Christ. Let us note there was yet no superstitious usage even of this sign of the Cross. It was an act by which, in suffering “shame for Jesus name,” they fortified themselves against betraying the Master. It took the place, be it remembered, of innumerable heathen practices, and was a protest against them. It meant—“God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross.” I express no personal opinion as to this observance, but give the explanation which the early Christians would have given. Tertullian touched with Montanism, but not yet withdrawn from Catholic Communion, pleads the common cause of believers.
The traditions here argued for respect things in their nature indifferent. And as our author asserts the long continuance of such usages to be their chief justification, it is evident that he supposed them common from the Sub-apostolic age. There is nothing here to justify amplifications and traditions which, subsequently, came in like a flood to change principles of the Faith once delivered to the Saints. Even in his little plea for Montanistic revelations of some possible novelties, he pre-supposes that reason must be subject to Scripture and Apostolic Law. In a word, his own principle of “Prescription” must be honoured even in things indifferent; if novel they are not Catholic.
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