Treatise on the Right Use of the Fathers in Controversies (John Daillé) – Author’s Preface

The following is the author’s preface to Daillé’s excellent work on the right use of the fathers. (see the contents post for more background)


All the difference in religion, which is at this day between the Church of Rome and the Protestants, lies in some certain points which the Church of Rome maintains as important and necessary articles of the Christian faith: whereas the Protestants, on the contrary, neither believe nor will receive them for such. For as for those matters which the Protestants believe, which they conceive to be the fundamentals of religion, they are evidently and undeniably such, that even their enemies admit and receive them as well as they: inasmuch as they are both clearly delivered in the Scriptures, and expressly admitted by the ancient councils and Fathers; and are indeed unanimously received by the greatest part of Christians in all ages, and in different parts of the world. Such, for example, are the maxims,

  • That there is a God who is supreme over all, and who created the heavens and the earth: 
  • that he created man after his own image; and that this man, revolting from his obedience, is fallen, together with his whole posterity, into most extreme and eternal misery, and become infected with sin, as with a mortal leprosy, and is therefore obnoxious to the wrath of God, and liable to his curse: 
  • that the merciful Creator, pitying man’s estate, graciously sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world: 
  • that his Son is God eternal with him; and that having taken flesh upon himself in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and become man, he has done and suffered in this flesh all things necessary for our salvation, having by this means sufficiently expiated for our sins by his blood; and that having finished all this, he ascended again into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; from whence he shall one day come to judge all mankind, rendering to every one according to their works; 
  • that to enable us to communicate of this salvation by his merits, he sends us down his Holy Spirit, proceeding both from the Father and the Son, and who is also one and the same God with them; so that these three persons are notwithstanding but one God, who is blessed forever; 
  • that this Spirit enlightens our understanding, and generates faith in us, whereby we are justified: 
  • that after all this, the Lord sent his Apostles to preach this doctrine of salvation throughout the whole world: 
  • that these have planted churches, and placed in each of them pastors and teachers, whom we are to hear with all reverence, and to receive from them Baptism, the sacrament of our regeneration, and the holy Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper, which is the sacrament of our communion with Jesus Christ: 
  • that we are likewise all of us bound fervently to love God and our neighbor; observing diligently that holy doctrine which is laid down for us in the books of the New Testament, which have been inspired by his Spirit of truth; as also those other of the Old; there being nothing, either in the one or in the other, but what is most true.

These articles, and there may be some few others of a similar nature, are the substance of the Protestant’s whole belief: and if all other Christians would but content themselves with these, there would never be any schism in the Church. But now their adversaries add to these many other points, which they press and command men to believe as necessary; and such as, without believing in, there is no possible hope of salvation. As for example:

  • that the Pope of Rome is the head and supreme monarch of the whole Christian Church throughout the world: 
  • that he, or at least the church which he acknowledges a true one, cannot possibly err in matters of faith: 
  • that the sacrament of the Eucharist is to be adored, as being really Jesus Christ, and not a piece of bread: 
  • that the mass is a sacrifice, that really expiates the sins of the faithful: 
  • that Christians may and ought to have in their churches the images of God and of saints, to which, bowing down before them, they are to use religious worship: 
  • that it is lawful, and also very useful, to pray to saints departed and to angels: 
  • that our souls after death, before they enter into heaven, are to pass through a certain fire, and there to endure grievous torments; thus making atonement for their sins: 
  • that we neither may nor ought to receive the holy Eucharist, without having first confessed in private to a priest: 
  • that none but the priest himself that consecrated the Eucharist is bound by right to receive it in both kinds: 
  • with a great number of other opinions, which their adversaries plainly protest that they cannot with a safe conscience believe.

These points are the ground of the whole difference between them; the one party pretending that they have been believed and received by the Church of Christ in all ages as revealed by him; and the other maintaining the contrary.

Now, seeing that none of these tenets have any ground from any passage in the New Testament, (which is the most ancient and authentic rule of Christianity) the maintainers are glad to fly to the writings of the doctors of the Church, who lived within the first four or five centuries after the Apostles, who are commonly called the Fathers: my purpose in this treatise is to examine whether or not this be good and sufficient means for the decision of these differences. For this purpose I must first presuppose two things, which any reasonable person will easily grant me.

The first is, that the question being here about laying a foundation for certain articles of faith, upon the testimonies or opinions of the Fathers, it is very necessary that the passages which are produced out of them be clear, and not to be doubted; that is to say, such as we cannot reasonably scruple at, either as regards the author, out of whom they are alleged; or the sense of the place, whether it signify what is pretended. For a deposition of a witness, and the sentence of a judge, being of no value at all, save only for the reputation of the witness or judge, it is most evident, that if either proceed from persons unknown, or suspected, they are invalid, and prove nothing. In like manner, if the deposition of a witness or sentence of a judge be obscure, and in doubtful terms, it is clear, that in this case the business must rest undecided; there being another doubt first to be cleared, namely, what the meaning of either of them was.

The second point that I shall here lay down for a foundation to the ensuing discourse, is no less evident than the former: namely, that to allow a sufficiency to the writings of the Fathers for the deciding of those controversies, we must necessarily attribute to their persons very great authority; and such as may oblige us to follow their judgment in matters of religion. For if this authority be wanting, however clear and express their opinions be, in the articles now controverted, it will do nothing towards their decision.

We have therefore here two things to examine in this business. The first is, whether or not we may be able to know, with certainty and clearness, what the opinion of the Fathers has been on the differences now in hand. The second, whether their authority be such, that every faithful person who shall clearly and certainly know what their opinion has been in any one article of Christian religion, is thereby bound to receive that article for true. For if the Church of Rome be but able to prove both these points, it is then without all dispute that their proceeding is good, and agreeable to the end proposed; there being so many writings of the ancient Fathers at this day adduced by them. But if, on the contrary, either of these two things, or both of them, be indeed found to be doubtful, I should think that any man, of a very mean judgment, should be able to conclude of himself, that this way of proof, which they have hitherto made use of, is very insufficient; and that therefore they of necessity ought to have recourse to some other more proper and solid way of proving the truth of the said opinions, which the Protestants will not by any means receive.


TFan’s Notes:  It seems particularly interesting to note what Daillé views as the central doctrines of Christianity as well as those that he particularly objects to in Rome’s theology.  One particularly notable omission from his list of Rome’s objectionable doctrines are the Marian dogmas.  Part of that is based on the fact that dogmatizing of those views of Mary was still in the works when Daillé wrote (he wrote in the 1600’s).  But certainly, if a Reformed author were writing today, we would add the Marian dogmas to the second bulleted list above.

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