In the year of the Lord’s incarnation 1381 the esteemed Henry of Langenstein penned the following conclusion to his deeply Scripturally-informed and excellently irenic little work A Letter Concerning a Council of Peace:
Here is a way of peace, a way oft trodden by our fathers before us, a way of salvation. The record of past events, which is the teacher of modern men, ought surely to move Christian kings and princes to undertake with the greatest enthusiasm this way which is pleasing to God and demand its execution without delay. History informs us that formerly, through the devotion, patronage, and encouragement of kings, in past emergencies of the Church provincial and general synods of bishops were in the providence of God frequently called and that they faithfully submitted themselves and their lawsuits, as well as the correction and emendation of their laws, to the holy judgment of their councils. This is evident from a wide consideration of the proceedings of the councils which have been recorded….From these and similar actions of kings, it is evident that not only must secular powers, in proportion to their strength, assist in the summoning of a general council, but that our kings and princes, who are engaged in diverse wars and disputes, must, in accordance with the example and devotion of celebrated kings, faithfully and with obedient humility agree to the summoning of a council for the purpose of bringing about a general treaty of peace…
In this light I find myself wondering how many critics of Reformed Catholicism would want to own the following two statements?
A council (so called from concalando or conciendo, i.e, “calling together”) is a public assembly, convoked either by a political magistrate or by the common consent of the church, in which pious and learned men rightly called and delegated take up ecclesiastical causes; and opinions being compared from the word of God define (according to the power granted to the church by God) that the evils which are accustomed to beget heresies and schisms may be either avoided or cured.
Now although councils are not simply and absolutely necessary to the being of the church (since without them faith and the church can be safe and were, for a long time); still their use and necessity for its better being is rightly urged against the disorderly (ataktous) and independent from the multiple utility which they can confer.–Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol. 3 (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1997), pg. 307
…we allow that it is a highly convenient way of finding the true sense of scripture, for devout and learned men to assemble, examine the cause diligently, and investigate the truth; yet with this proviso, that they govern their decision wholly by the scriptures. Such a proceeding we, for our parts, have long wished for; for it is attended with a twofold advantage: first, that what is sought by many is found the more readily; second, that errors, and heretics the patrons of errors, are the more easily repressed, when they are condemned by the common consent and judgment of a great number.–William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture, trans. and ed. by Rev. William Fitzgerald, (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000), pg. 434
I believe that there’s a LOT of healthy discussion to be had amongst Reformed people about passages like this. In particular there are some serious questions to be asked about the manner in which we typically construe sola Scriptura and the origins of the Protestant reformation, and also about the role we give polemics against “Romanists” relative to the rest of our faith and practice.
There’s a reason that regarding ecclesiology’s intersection with the doctrine of the supremacy of Scripture, guys like Turretin and Whitaker (and Calvin as well) sound a lot like Henry of Langenstein and Pierre d’Ailly and Jean Gerson and Nicholas of Cusa. And I would like to somewhat brazenly assert that that reason is not because the Protestant reformation was a radical departure from what had come before, nor is it because the pre-reformation Church was somehow just too catholic for our Reformed blood. We have a lot of reforming to do on these issues and that’s exactly why we need the wisdom of our brethren from the past–all of them, and not just the ones in the 16th century.