Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Commonitory of Vincent of Lérins, For the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies.: Chapter I. The Object of the Following Treatise.
A Commonitory 422
For the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies.
The Object of the Following Treatise.
[1.] I, Peregrinus, 423 who am the least of all the servants of God, remembering the admonition of Scripture, “Ask thy fathers and they will tell thee, thine elders and they will declare unto thee,” 424 and again, “Bow down thine ear to the words of the wise,” 425 and once more, “My son, forget not these instructions, but let thy heart keep my words:” 426 remembering these admonitions, I say, I, Peregrinus, am persuaded, that, the Lord helping me, it will be of no little use and certainly as regards my own feeble powers, it is most necessary, that I should put down in writing the things which I have truthfully received from the holy Fathers, since I shall then have ready at hand wherewith by constant reading to make amends for the weakness of my memory.
[2.] To this I am incited not only by regard to the fruit to be expected from my labour but also by the consideration of time and the opportuneness of place:
By the consideration of time,—for seeing that time seizes upon all things human, we also in turn ought to snatch from it something which may profit us to eternal life, especially since a certain awful expectation of the approach of the divine judgment importunately demands increased earnestness in religion, while the subtle craftiness of new heretics calls for no ordinary care and attention.
I am incited also by the opportuneness of place, in that, avoiding the concourse and crowds of cities, I am dwelling in the seclusion of a Monastery, situated in a remote grange, 427 where, I can follow without distraction the Psalmists 428 admonition, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Moreover, it suits well with my purpose in adopting this life; for, whereas I was at one time involved in the manifold and deplorable tempests of secular warfare, I have now at length, under Christs auspices, cast anchor in the harbour of religion, a harbour to all always most safe, in order that, having there been freed from the blasts of vanity and pride, and propitiating God by the sacrifice of Christian humility, I may be able to escape not only the shipwrecks of the present life, but also the flames of the world to come.
[3.] But now, in the Lords name, I will set about the object I have in view; that is to say, to record with the fidelity of a narrator rather than the presumption of an author, the things which our forefathers have handed down to us and committed to our keeping, yet observing this rule in what I write, that I p. 132 shall by no means touch upon everything that might be said, but only upon what is necessary; nor yet in an ornate and exact style, but in simple and ordinary language, 429 so that the most part may seem to be intimated, rather than set forth in detail. Let those cultivate elegance and exactness who are confident of their ability or are moved by a sense of duty. For me it will be enough to have provided a Commonitory (or Remembrancer) for myself, such as may aid my memory, or rather, provide against my forgetfulness: which same Commonitory however, I shall endeavor, the Lord helping me, to amend and make more complete by little and little, day by day, by recalling to mind what I have learnt. I mention this at the outset, that if by chance what I write should slip out of my possession and come into the hands of holy men, they may forbear to blame anything therein hastily, when they see that there is a promise that it will yet be amended and made more complete.
Commonitory. I have retained the original title in its anglicised form, already familiar to English ears in connection with the name of Vincentius. Its meaning as he uses it is indicated sufficiently, in § 3, “An aid to memory.” Technically, it meant a Paper of Instructions given to a person charged with a commission, to assist his memory as to its details.131:423
Peregrinus. It does not appear why Vincentius writes under an assumed name. Vossius, with whom Cardinal Noris evidently agrees, supposes that his object was to avoid openly avowing himself the author of a work which covertly attacked St. Augustine. Vossius, Histor. Pelag. p. 246. Ego quidem ad Vossii sententiam plane accessissem, nisi tot delatæ a sapientissimis Scriptoribus Commonitorio laudes religionem mihi pene injecissent.—Noris, Histor. Pelag. p. 246.131:424
Deut. xxxii. 7.131:425
Prov. xxii. 17.131:426
Prov. iii. 1.131:427
Noris, from this word, “villula,” a grange or country house, concludes that Vincentius, at the time of writing, though a monk, was not a monk of Lérins for there could be no “villula” there then, Honoratus having found the island desolate and without inhabitant, when he settled on it but a few years previously, “vacantem insulam ob nimictatem squaloris, et inaccessam venenatorum animalium metu.” Histor. Pelag. p. 251. Why, however, may not the “villula” have been built subsequently to Honoratuss settlement and indeed, as a part of it? Whether Vincentius was an inmate of the monastery of Lérins at the time of writing the Commonitory or not, he was so eventually, and died there.131:428
Ps. xlvi. 10.132:429
“Il dit quil la voulu écrire dun style facile et commun, sans le vouloir orner et polir; et je voudrois que les ouvrages quon a pris le plus de peine à polir dans ce siècle (le 4me) et dans le suivant, ressemblassent à celui-ci.” Tillemont, T. xv. p. 144.
Next: Chapter II. A General Rule for distinguishing the Truth of the Catholic Faith from the Falsehood of Heretical Pravity.
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