Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
On Difference of Opinion
By Jeremy Taylor (16131667)
From The Liberty of Prophesying
BUT men are, nowadays, and indeed always have been, since the expiration of the first blessed ages of Christianity, so in love with their own fancies and opinions, as to think faith and all Christendom is concerned in their support and maintenance; and whoever is not so fond, and does not dandle them like themselves, it grows up to a quarrel, which, because it is in materia theologiæ, is made a quarrel in religion, and God is entitled to it; and then if you are once thought an enemy to God, it is our duty to persecute you even to deathwe do God good service in it; when, if we should examine the question rightly, the question is either in materia non revelata, or minus evidenti, or non necessaria, either it is not revealed, or not so clearly, but that wise and honest men may be of different minds; or else it is not of the foundation of faith, but a remote superstructure; or else of mere speculation; or perhaps, when all comes to all, it is a false opinion, or a matter of human interest that we have so zealously contended for; for to one of these heads most of the disputes of Christendom may be reduced; so that I believe the present factions, or the most, are from the same cause which St. Paul observed in the Corinthian schism; When there are divisions among you, are ye not carnal? It is not the differing opinions that is the cause of the present ruptures, but want of charity; it is not the variety of understandings, but the disunion of wills and affections; it is not the several principles, but the several ends, that cause our miseries; our opinions commence and are upheld according as our turns are served, and our interests are preserved, and there is no cure for us but piety and charity. A holy life will make our belief holy, if we consult not humanity and its imperfections in the choice of our religion, but search for truth without designs, save only of acquiring heaven, and then be as careful to preserve charity as we were to get a point of faith; I am as much persuaded we shall find out more truths by this means: or, however, which is the main of all, we shall be secured though we miss them, and then we are well enough.
For if it be evinced that one heaven shall hold men of several opinions, if the unity of faith be not destroyed by that which men call differing religions, and if a unity of charity be the duty of us all, even towards persons that are not persuaded of every proposition we believe, then I would fain know to what purposes are all those stirs and great noises in Christendom, those names of faction, the several names of churches not distinguished by the division of kingdoms, ut ecclesia sequatur imperium, which was the primitive rule and canon, but distinguished by names of sects and men; these are all become instruments of hatred; thence come schisms and parting of communions, and then persecutions, and then wars and rebellion, and then the dissolutions of all friendships and societies. All these mischiefs proceed not from this, that all men are not of one mind, for that is neither necessary nor possiblebut that every opinion is made an article of faith, every article is a ground of a quarrel, every quarrel makes a faction, every faction is zealous, and all zeal pretends for God, and whatsoever is for God cannot be too much; we, by this time, are come to that pass, we think we love not God except we hate our brother, and we have not the virtue of religion unless we persecute all religions but our own, for lukewarmness is so odious to God and man, that we, proceeding furiously upon these mistakes, by supposing we preserve the body, we destroy the soul of religion,or, by being zealous for faith, or, which is all one, for that which we mistake for faith, we are cold in charity, and so lose the reward of both.