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Tradition and long usage Print E-mail
By John Henry Newman   
Monday, 03 October 2011

Matters of faith, indeed, he reveals to us by inspiration, because they are supernatural: but matters of moral duty, through our own conscience and divinely guided reason; and matters of form, by tradition and long usage, which bind us to the observance of them, though they are not enjoined in Scripture. This, I say, is the proper answer to the question, “Why do you observe rites and forms which are not enjoined in Scripture?” Though, to speak the truth, our chief ordinances are to be found there, as the Sacraments, public worship, the observance of the Lord’s-day, ordination, marriage, and the like. But I shall make another answer, which is suggested by our Lord’s conforming to the Jewish Law in the rite of circumcision; and my answer is this.

Scripture tells us what to believe, and what to aim at and maintain, but it does not tell us how to do it; and as we cannot do it at all unless we do it in this manner, or that, in fact we must add something to what Scripture tells us. For example, Scripture tells us to meet together for prayer, and has connected the grant of the Christian blessings on God’s part, with the observance of union on ours; but since it does not tell us the times and places of prayer, the Church must complete that which Scripture has but enjoined generally.

The Bible then may be said to give us the spirit of religion; but the Church must provide the body in which that spirit is to be lodged. Religion must be realised in particular acts, in order to its continuing alive. When persons attempt to worship in this (what they call) more spiritual manner, they end, in fact, in not worshipping at all. This frequently happens. Everyone may know it from his own experience of himself. Youths, for instance (and perhaps those who should know better than they), sometimes argue with themselves, “What is the need of praying statedly morning and evening? why use a form of words? why kneel? why cannot I pray in bed, or walking, or dressing?” they end in not praying at all.

 

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