There are writers who refer to the first centuries of the Church as a time when opinion was free, and the conscience exempt from the obligation or temptation to take on trust what it had not proved; and that, apparently on the mere ground that the series of great theological decisions did not commence till the fourth. This seems to be M. Guizot's meaning when he says that Christianity "in the early ages was a belief, a sentiment, an individual conviction;" [in his European Civilization] that "the Christian society appears as a pure association of men animated by the same sentiments and professing the same creed. The first Christians," he continues, "assembled to enjoy together the same emotions, the same religious convictions. We do not find any doctrinal system established, any form of discipline or of laws, or any body of magistrates."  What can be meant by saying that Christianity had no magistrates in the earliest ages?—but, any how, in statements such as these the distinction is not properly recognised between a principle and its exhibitions and instances, even if the fact were as is represented. The principle indeed of Dogmatism developes into Councils in the course of time; but it was active, nay sovereign from the first, in every part of Christendom. A conviction that truth was one; that it was a gift from without, a sacred trust, an inestimable blessing; that it was to be reverenced, guarded, defended, transmitted; that its absence was a grievous want, and its loss an unutterable calamity; and again, the stern words and acts of St. John, of Polycarp, Ignatius, Irenæus, Clement, Tertullian, and Origen;—all this is quite consistent with perplexity or mistake as to what was truth in particular cases, in what way doubtful questions were to be decided, or what were the limits of the Revelation. Councils and Popes are the guardians and instruments of the dogmatic principle: they are not that principle themselves; they presuppose the principle; they are summoned into action at the call of the principle, and the principle might act even before they had their legitimate place, and exercised a recognized power, in the movements of the Christian body.

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