Zanchius on the Authority of the Church Fathers

NicaeaWhen I write this Confession of faith, I write everie thing uppon a good conscience, and as I beleeved, so I spake freelie, as the holie scriptures doe teach that wee ought to doe. My faith is grounded simplie and principallie on the word of God and next, somewhat upon the common consent of the whole auncient catholicke church, if it doe not gainsaye the holie scriptures. For I beleeve that the thinges which were decreed and received of the fathers, by common consent of them all gathered together in the name of the Lord, without anie contradiction of holie scriptures, that they also (though they bee not of equall authoritie with the scriptures) come from the Holie ghost. Hereupon it is that the thinges which are of this sorte, I neither will nore dare disproove with a good conscience. And what is more certaine out of the histories, the councells and writings of all the fathers, then that those orders of ministers [primarily bishops], of which wee spake, were ordained and received in the church by common consent of all the whole christian common wealth? And who am I that I should disproove that which the whole church hath approoved? Neither have all the learned men of this age dared to disproove the same, as knowing both that the church might lawfullie doe so [create new ecclesiastical offices] and that all those thinges were ordained and done uppon a godlie purpose and to excellent good endes, for edification of God’s children. (De religione christiana fides, Obs. In caput XXV, Aph. X, et XI.)

In the context of this aphorism Zanchius is defending his earlier statement that even though the office of bishop, as it was understood by the early and Medieval church, is not contained within the scriptures the church may use that office or create others in order to meet the needs of a particular area. Zanchius notes that the scriptural “three-office” view is preferable. The true worth of this quote, however, lies with his general rule of doctrine: the teachings of the fathers which were held unanimously and which do not contradict Holy Scripture come from the Holy Spirit and may not be contradicted with a good conscience.

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