From time to time Anglicans make claims about the early church in support of one or other of the various churchmanships we ‘enjoy’. Even Peter Toon, an Evangelical from the C of E who taught for a while at Nashotah House (a short while, as you might expect), was fond of referring to ‘One God, two Testaments, three Creeds, four Councils, five centuries’ as providing the standard to which the church should be held accountable in its teaching and practice.
It won’t do, you know. ‘From the first of the fathers to the last of the popes, a succession of bishops, of saints, of martyrs, and of miracles, is continued without interruption; and the progress of superstition was so gradual, and almost imperceptible, that we know not in what particular link we should break the chain of tradition. Every age bears testimony to the wonderful events by which it was distinguished, and its testimony appears no less weighty and respectable than that of the preceding generation, till we are insensibly led on to accuse our own inconsistency, if in the eighth or in the twelfth century we deny to the venerable Bede, or to the holy Bernard, the same degree of confidence which, in the second century, we had so liberally granted to Justin or to Irenæus.’
Our Articles of Religion make it very clear that there is only one authority on which we can rely, and that is the authority of Scripture. If it can’t be found there, it can’t be necessary, no matter who said it, or when. Even things ordained by the first four Councils ‘have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.’ Even the creeds are only to be believed because ‘they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture’.
If we were to discover a new manuscript quoting Peter, or Paul’s missing letter, it would have no more authority for us—less, actually, in the light of Romans 13—than a pastoral letter from our own bishop (although it might in some cases be a lot more interesting). To quote William Chillingworth again (from here), ‘The BIBLE. The BIBLE, I say, The BIBLE only is the Religion of Protestants! Whatsoever else they believe besides it, and the plain, irrefragable, indubitable consequences of it, well may they hold it as a matter of Opinion, but as matter of Faith and Religion, neither can they with coherence to their own grounds believe it themselves, nor require the belief of it of others.’
So why bother with anything else?