Vincent of Lérins and the Development of Christian Doctrine

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The theology of Vincent of Lérins is often reduced to a memorable slogan: "We hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, and by everyone." Thomas Guarino argues that this "Vincentian canon" has frequently been taken out of context. This book introduces Vincent's thought and its reception in Christian history, exploring Vincent's creative and innovative understanding of the development of doctrine and showing how it informed the thought of John Henry Newman. Guarino contends that Vincent's theology contributes significantly to theology and ecumenism in the twenty-first century. The volume is the second in a series on the church fathers edited by Hans Boersma and Matthew Levering.

About the Series
The Foundations of Theological Exegesis and Christian Spirituality series critically recovers patristic exegesis and interpretation for contemporary theology and spirituality. Each volume covers a specific church father and illuminates the exegesis that undergirds the Nicene tradition.

Introduction: The Life and Works of Vincent of Lérins
1. Key Theological Themes in the Commonitorium
2. The Theological Reception of Vincent of Lérins: John Henry Newman
3. The Enduring Ecumenical Importance of Vincent of Lérins


"Any student of theology interested in the problem of the development of doctrine must take seriously the full measure of Guarino's carefully researched book. He not only provides us with brilliant historical scholarship but also demonstrates the enduring pertinence of the Vincentian Canon, which is too often reduced to a catchphrase. This volume is a splendid example of authentic ressourcement."

Lawrence S. Cunningham, John A. O'Brien Professor of Theology Emeritus, University of Notre Dame

"Guarino not only rescues Vincent of Lérins from the textbook stigma of a static view of Christian truth (what has been held 'always, everywhere, and by everyone'), he also lifts up the nuances in the Lérinian's full view of the dynamic development of doctrine (identity within change), a view appreciatively received by John Henry Newman and worthy of ecumenical 'rereception' today."

Paul Rorem, Benjamin B. Warfield Professor of Medieval Church History, Princeton Theological Seminary

"Of the splendid Commonitorium of Vincent of Lérins many Christians know only one sentence--if that. Thomas Guarino remedies the situation superbly. He offers a full reading of the Commonitorium and of Vincent's complex thought on the development of doctrine. He then moves on to John Henry Newman's cautious interpretation of Vincent and ends with a reflection on Vincent in contemporary theology and ecumenism. From the Council of Nicaea to Vincent to Newman to Vatican II and beyond, this is a challenging journey, beautifully presented."

Fr. Joseph T. Lienhard, SJ, Fordham University

"Routinely cited and just as routinely dismissed for allegedly holding that authentic doctrine simply never changes, Vincent here comes to life as a much more complex and theologically imposing figure who articulated sophisticated criteria for ensuring both the conservation and the authentic development of Christian doctrine. This is historical theology at its finest and most relevant."

Khaled Anatolios, professor of historical theology, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

"Guarino successfully moves Vincent and his Rule from their long-term plight of either benign neglect or ahistorical appropriation. Instead, Vincent stands as a perennial reminder to the Church that it must be very deliberate in preserving and guarding the deposit of doctrine bequeathed to it."

D. H. Williams, professor of religion in patristics and historical theology, Baylor University

The Author

  1. Thomas G. Guarino

    Thomas G. Guarino

    Thomas G. Guarino (STD, Catholic University of America) is professor of systematic theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He is the author of several books, including Vattimo and Theology and Foundations of Systematic...

    Continue reading about Thomas G. Guarino


Winner of the 2014 Paradosis Center Book Prize

"Guarino sets out to rebuild Vincent of Lérins's reputation--mostly by removing the monk from the useful place he has occupied in modern debates about the ever-adapting 'spirit of Christianity,' the development of doctrine, and the inviolability of the meaning of ancient texts. . . . Taken on its own terms, Vincent of Lérins and the Development of Christian Doctrine is entirely persuasive. Vincent has been genuinely misread as an icon of extreme conservatism about tradition, and we should free him from that shorthand use. Which shouldn't surprise us. Useful history is almost always doubtful history: The neater and cleaner a historical marker seems, the more we should suspect that the rough edges of actual circumstance have been sanded away. Or, put another way, the more one knows about historical figures, the more there is to say about them--and the less there is to conclude."

Joseph Bottum,

The Weekly Standard

"[An] important new book. . . . Guarino elucidates the thought of an important Church Father and of contemporary Catholicism's approach to doctrinal development. . . . Vincent clarifies a choice, the same choice that Newman faced: Which has real priority, book or institution? Guarino does not ultimately convince me that he has made the right choice, but his brilliant and fascinating book enables the reader to address the matter in a more informed way, historically, theologically, and ecumenically."

Carl R. Trueman,

First Things

"[A] small but fascinating work. . . . Guarino, a Roman Catholic writer, provides a less angular assessment of Vincent, his times, and his longer-term impact. One finds here unlooked-for surprises, as well as explorations of how Vincent's 'canon' has 'traveled' across the centuries. . . . For the many who have been content to draw attention to Vincent as no more than a kind of vigilant guard against doctrinal innovation, Guarino does his readers the great service of highlighting Vincent's cautious attempts to describe what might constitute legitimate refinement or re-statement of Christian doctrine. . . . The fresh light shed on Vincent, his times, and the actual thrust of his principles of doctrinal development should, by itself, ensure that both Catholic and Protestant writers appeal to his 'canon' more responsibly. Let a reading of this work serve as the needed stimulus to many to read Vincent's Commonitorium . . . and his later disciple John Henry Newman's Essay on Development."

Kenneth J. Stewart,


"This work by an accomplished Roman Catholic theologian has much to say to the present evangelical church. Namely, the evangelical church needs to take seriously the vast theological heritage that has defined biblical doctrine in its zealous endeavors to contextualize and make relevant its message. . . . Guarino's short treatise is not only an erudite and helpful introduction to a long neglected church father, but a brilliant demonstration of how historical theology can be utilized in dealing with present-day theological issues. It is a masterful book that deserves serious consideration by anyone interested in patristics, the history of doctrine, and theological hermeneutics."

André A. Gazal,

Trinity Journal

"A very helpful introduction to the thought and impact of Vincent's theology. . . . What Guarino seeks to do in this book is free Vincent from his reputation as a cranky traditionalist, and introduces us to this fuller vision of Vincent so that we can have the tools to think through doctrinal issues facing the present day. His is an offering to the church of another tool for the church to discern the wisdom and will of God. For this we can be greatly appreciative. . . . Our understandings of biblical truth have evolved and must evolve. The question is, how do we do this with all faithfulness to the deposit of faith? Vincent can be a good resource, even for liberals, and Guarino is an excellent interpreter of Vincent's thought--as well as Newman's. Guarino writes in his conclusion that his goal is to complicate our reading of Vincent, so that he can once again offer the contemporary church wisdom. In this, I believe he has succeeded."

Robert Cornwall,

Ponderings on a Faith Journey blog