The so-called Vincentian Canon was formulated by Vincent of the monastery of Lérins in his Commonitorium (written circa AD 434, under the pseudonym Peregrinus) to “put down in writing the things which I have truthfully received from the holy Fathers.”[i] The Vincentian Canon, stated simplistically, asserts that proper Christian belief is that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.[ii]
Taken literally, there are obviously no Christian beliefs that have been believed everywhere, always and by all. If so, can the Vincentian Canon be of any use whatsoever? I want to give three examples of how we might apply the Vincentian Canon.
1. Salvation by grace through faith is believed everywhere, always and by all. Some may add other ideas to or with it, but they nevertheless hold salvation by grace through faith as basic. Should we not hold that which is universally agreed upon and discard the rest?
2. Believers’ baptism is believed everywhere, always and by all. Some may accept infant baptism as well, but they nevertheless hold that believers’ baptism is true. Should we not hold that which is universally agreed upon and discard the rest?
3. Baptism by immersion is believed everywhere, always and by all. Some also allow for sprinkling and pouring, but they nevertheless hold immersion as a true form of baptism. Should we not hold that which is universally agreed upon and discard the rest?
I am not a proponent of the Vincentian Canon, but wonder what it might look like if we apply it to some of our beliefs.[iii] In the end we default to Sola Scriptura – what the Scriptures agree upon – rather than the Vincentian Canon – what everybody everywhere always agrees upon. Were I earnestly trying to prove believers’ baptism, for example, I would make my argument from Scripture rather than what everyone is agreed upon.
[ii] In Latin, quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est. Chapter 2.[6.] “Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent.” Look also HERE. This seems to be somewhat of a theory of the lowest common denominator for church practice.
[iii] What would the results of the Vincentian Canon look like if applied to historical dissenting anti-paedobaptist churches?