it will not be going too far into particulars, and may help to the understanding and application of the whole argument, if I point out three distinct fields of Christian knowledge, in neither of which can we advance satisfactorily or safely without constant appeal to tradition, such as has been described.
The first is, the System and Arrangement of fundamental Articles, so far as they have come down to us systematic and arranged. We, that is all of the Anglican Church who have had any regular training in theology, are so early taught to trace the Creed in the Scriptures, and to refer at once certain portions of both Testaments to certain high mysteries of the Catholic faith, that it commonly appears to ourselves as though we had learned those mysteries directly from the Scriptures. But there are few, surely, who on careful recollection would not be compelled to acknowledge that the Creed, or some corresponding catechetical instruction, had prepossessed them with these truths, before ever they thought of proving them from Holy Writ. I need hardly remind you of the unquestioned historical fact, that the very Nicene Creed itself, to which perhaps of all formulæ we are most indebted for our sound belief in the proper divinity of the SON of GOD—even this Creed had its origin, not from Scripture, but from tradition.
The three hundred Bishops who joined in its promulgation did not profess to have collected it out of the Bible, but simply to express the faith which each of them had found in the Church which he represented, received by tradition from the Apostles. Nor is this any disparagement to Scripture, nor need it excite any alarm for the great fundamental verity itself, which the Creed was meant to assert; any more than it would disparage the works of God, or shake the foundation of our faith in natural religion, were one to affirm that the power and Godhead of the Creator, although unquestionably proveable from the things which are made, would yet have remained unknown to the mass of mankind, but for primitive tradition, or subsequent revelation of it.
The second great subject, on which most of us are unconsciously indebted to the ancient Catholic tradition, is the Interpretation of Scripture, especially those parts of it which less obviously relate to the mysteries of the Gospel. Catholic tradition bears upon Scripture interpretation, not only indirectly, by supplying, as just now stated, certain great landmarks of apostolical doctrine, conformably to which the written statements are all to be interpreted; but also, in numerous cases, directly; setting the Church's seal, as it were, upon one among many possible expositions of particular passages. For example: how else could we know, with tolerable certainty, that Melchizedek's feast is a type of the blessed eucharist? or that the book of Canticles is an allegory, representing the mystical union betwixt CHRIST and his Church? or that Wisdom, in the book of Proverbs, is a Name of the second Person in the Most Holy Trinity? All which interpretations, the moment they are heard, approve themselves to an unprejudiced mind, and must in all likelihood have come spontaneously into many readers' thoughts. But it may be questioned whether we could ever have arrived at more than a plausible conjecture regarding them, but for the constant agreement of the early Church, taking notice every where, in these and the like instances, of the manner in which the Old Testament was divinely accommodated to the wonders of CHRIST'S religion.
The third great field of apostolical tradition lies among practical matters, the Discipline, Formularies, and Rites of the Church of CHRIST: in regard of which, reason tells us that the Church Apostolical must here have had some method and system; yet it is evident to the very eye that the New Testament exhibits no such system in form, but only fragments and other indications of one in full operation at the time, and well known to those for whom the Apostles were writing.
PRIMITIVE TRADITION RECOGNISED IN HOLY SCRIPTURE, Keble (1837)