Mariology and the Vincentian Canon
In the 5th Century, Vincent of Lerins wrote his famous Commonitory with the purpose of providing a rule whereby catholic truth can be distinguished from error. (P. Schaff, NPNF2-11. Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian 2004, 209) This rule has come down to us as the Vincentian Canon: “Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est” or in English, “What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”. This expression — this summary of the Commonitory — is something of a tautology: the rule is meant to define orthodoxy, yet the word “all” refers only to those holding fast to orthodox doctrine. (G. Florovsky 2002) Despite this, the Vincentian Canon remains a useful rule, a means by which we may discern truth from error. As explained Vincent of Lerins, the rule becomes a means of determining the catholicity of a doctrine.
Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors. (P. Schaff, NPNF2-11. Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian 2004, 214)
In this explanation of the Vincentian Canon, Vincent of Lerins is careful to point out that catholicity means three things: universality, antiquity, and consent. Thus we accept no doctrine on account of its antiquity if it is not likewise accepted everywhere by common consent of the church. Likewise we do not accept innovation in doctrine, no matter how widespread it becomes, if it does not come down to us from antiquity.
It can be said that the modern, Protestant view of Mariology is an innovation. The modern opposition to Mariology is contrary to The Apostles’ Creed, as properly understood. Modern protestant theology must dismiss the antiquity of Mariology, and indeed of the Mariology of the reformers. For Lutherans, the opposition to Mariology runs contrary to our Book of Concord, and the sections touching on Mariology must be dismissed or explained away. This becomes a neo-quatenus confession, a confession made “in so far as” it agrees with our doctrinal bias. Thus an improper Mariology becomes a door to the dismissal of the deposit of the faith and an acceptance of the private interpretation of scripture. In this manner the individual becomes his or her own authority, the rule by which the orthodoxy of others is measured. In this manner the body of Christ is divided asunder, and Lutherans remove themselves from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
Florovsky, George. “The Catholicity of the Church.” Christian Orthodox Publications, Booklets, Articles, Bishop Alexander Mileant. January 8, 2002. http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/catholicity_)church_florovsky.htm (accessed Aug 10, 2010).
Schaff, Philip. NPNF2-11. Sulpitius Severus, Vincent of Lerins, John Cassian. Edited by Phillip Schaff and Henry Wace. Vol. 11. 14 vols. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2004.