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Admitting this demonstration to be valid in its concatenation of proofs, a few links are unfortunately wanting to connect the chain from the times of St. Epiphanius to the age of the Apostles. Dr. Priestley has indeed sagely observed that large bodies do not readily change their religious opinious; but we require a little more than his word for the assumption, that those heretics were anything but few and contemptible. And if any respect be due to the testimony of St. Epiphanius, on the assumption of whose integrity as a witness we at present reason, those heretics not only changed their opinions, but infected each other with their impious errours *. Allowing any weight to his testimony, it seems to be consequently of small importance to the Unitarian to prove, that they agreed in any opinion; until it be shewn that they were identical with the primitive Hebrew believers, and retained their common notions pure and uncorrupted. But for this purpose the Unitarian reasoner must seek another witness, besides the one whom he cites in evidence. So far is St. Epiphanius from representing those Ebionites and Nazarenes, who agreed in rejecting the divinity of our Lord, as identical, either in their opinions, or origin, with the primitive Hebrew believers; that he dates the rise of both the former from the siege of Jerusalem under Titus+, and while he classes and stigmatises them as heretics, in the common uotion which they embraced of the person of Christ, he distinctly represents the original Jewish Church as orthodox in its opinions. On hearing the evidence of this witness out, it affords, as must be confessed, a curious testimony in favour of “ what (Dr. Priestley) undertook to prove” by the assistance of St. Epiphanius and other ancient writers; “that the faith of the primitive church was Unitarian.”
But however sturdy the last witness is found, in making any . disclosure, at all detrimental to the orthodox cause, or favourable to the cause of the Unitarians; the next witness speaks to the point, and delivers his testimony, not less freely than fully. Such at least is the opinion of that great oracle of the sect, Mr. Belsham's learned predecessor.
“Indeed Origen’s own words,” says Dr. Priestley, “are too express to admit of any doubt of this. Those,” says he, “of the Jews who believe that Jesus is the Christ, are called Ebionites.” And these Ebionites Origen says were of two sorts, one of them believing the miraculous conception, and the other not ; but all of them considering Christ as a mere man.” Id. ibid. P. 29.
This testimony, of which it may be observed, that it is as short and sweet as it is explicit and decisive, we shall however take the liberty of stating, in both passages, with the context; as revealing a little more of the history of those favourite Ebionites than their followers feel a pride in avowing.
** Those of the Jews who believe on Jesus have not deserted their paternal law ; for they live according to it, thence deriving their appellation from the beggarliness of the law. For a beggar among the Jews, is called Ebion ; and those of the Jews who receive Jesus as the Christ are called Ebionites *.” “Let some be set down who receive Jesus, and on that account vaunt that they are Christians; notwithstanding that, according to the law of the Jews, they wish to live as the multitude of Hebrews, (such are the two species of Ebionites ; who either confess like us, that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that he was not thus born, but as other men :) how does the reproach affect those of the church, whom Celsus terms from the multitude + 2*
If it was the intention of “the learned and celebrated Ori. gen,” in this description, to identify the original Jewish believers, with the Ebionites, his contemporaries ; it must be confessed that his description of the primitive Hebrew Church and their representatives, is couched in very respectful language t! From the first of these passages it seems difficult, by any art of critical chemistry to extract any meaning, but that Ebionite was a term of reproach applied to all Judaisers; whatever might have been their opinion of the person of Jesus. From the last it seems
4' - difficult
difficult to press out any other meaning, fitted to our purposes
• * * * .
* Mr. Jones has indeed objected, Seq, to Eccl. Research. p. 183. and before him Mr. Toland, Nazaren. ch. viii. p. 23: That the word Ebion was not applied, as a term of reproach. Granting this to be the case, it does not affect the point in dispute; which is confined to an inference deduced from the testimony of Origin: in whose age the word certainly received this application: vid.sup. p. 510. n.”. But the objections of M. M. Jones and Toland’are not founded in fact; as the latter gentleman was given to understand by Dr. Mangey, who left him very little to rejoin on this subject, Toland. Mongoneut. p. 170. We subjoin a few of the reasons, which confirm us in the same opinion. (1). The term lions, properly signifies, not merely a poor-man, but a beggar; vid. Deut. xv. 4. Job. xxxi. 19. Ps. cxl. 13. (2) This sense it possesses derivatively; as descended from the root mas to crave. (3) In this sense it is put in apposition with oxy needy, Deut. xxiv. 14. Job. xxiv. 14. Ps. xxxviii. 14.
Xl. 18. lxx. 6. lxxiv. 21. (4) To this sense it is limited by Origen
Origer" was not wholly lost on the observation of Dr. Horsley.
He accordingly put in his exceptions; but as the reply of Dr. Priestley is a curiosity, we subjoin the answer and its rejoinder as we find them reported by Mr. Belsham.
“ Upon the first of these citations (from Origen) the Bishop remarks, that “ the word Fbiomite, in Origen's time, had outgrown its original meaning,” (Tracts. p. 38.) so as to include the orthodox Jewish believers: to which Dr. Priestley replies, (Tracts. p. 19. p. 30. ed. 1815,) that “this is a gratuitous conjecture of his own, contradicted by the unanimous testimony of antiquity, and that if true, it must have made three sorts of Ebionites, and not two only.” Pref. p. v.
The reader will discern, from the words in Italics, how much this ingenious reply of Dr. Priestley's derives from the learning of the last reporter ; the opinion of Petavius, Bp. Bull, and De la Rue", being now made “the gratuitous conjecture” of Bishop Horsley. But the force of Dr. Priestley's reply rather challenges our admiration. In order to give it full effect, we shall iHustrate it. by a familiar example. The term Socinian is now applied, and as Mr. Aspland declares, is applied as a term of reproach, to the Unitarians; in the same manner as the term Ebionite was applied in Origen's days, to the Hebrews of the orthodox, and deistical communion. From hence a man of plain understanding would merely infer with Bishop Horsley, that the word has now “outgrown its original meaning.” No: replies the objector, “if this be true, it makes three sorts of Unitarians;" i. e. we conjecture, Socinians, Unitarians, and certain Nondescripts, which possess the name of the one, but the qualities of neither. If these instances be not parallel, we now challenge Mr. Belsham to point out, in what they essentially differ? Having thus heard the testimony of this unanswerable witness to the close, let us now attend to the conclusion which it irrefragably establishes. -
“What I undertook to prove,” states Dr. Priestley, “was, that the faith of the primitive church was unitarian.” “And upon the whole,” restates Mr. Belsham, “he made good his allegations, and particularly, that in his assertion of the perfect unitarianism of the great body of Hebrew Christians, he was supported—above all, by the learned and celebrated Origen.” --
We have thus followed this curious demoustration to the close, with as much gravity as we could muster on an occasion so fertile in the ridiculous. And while we feel curious to be informed what it may be which Dr. Priestley has proved, we challenge the advocate of his fame and the participator of his triumphs, to point out, in the whole range of theology, Mr. Jones's labours excepted, another attempt at argument, which makes a pretence to learning or research, which is half so despicable as the present. We call for another instance, in which the
reading is more shallow, the argument more weak than this hap-.
piest effort of the genius and learning of “the indefatigable and undaunted champion of the Divine Unity.” Thus far we have considered the controversial claims of Dr. Priestley, without any particular regard to the seasonable castigation which his errors received from the powerful arm of Bishop Horsley. The respective merits of these opponents we are now fated to consider, whom no man has ever had the front to compare; until Mr. Thomas Belsham undertook to insult the memory of that able prelate, and the common sense of his readers, by proclaiming, that he was foiled in argument by that miserable driveller, whose pretensions, the most superficial observer must see through and despise. As every ardent admirer of Dr. Priestley is entitled to our peculiar respect; as the calumniator of Bishop Horsley stands indebted to our supreme regard; and as Mr. Thomas Belsham has claims of a private nature upon “ the wise men of the British Critic;” we shall now transfer a little of our regard from the principal to the accessary in this controversy, which he has undertaken to revive. We have no room, and have little inclination to abuse our readers' patience with the repetition of the shallow impotence in which the friend and successor of Dr. Priestley exhausts his efforts at being severe and contemptuous. The competency of Mr. Thomas Belsham, in point of knowledge and discernment, to form any opinion on the subject before us, is the exclusive object of our subsequent remarks on his work. For this purpose, we shall set the controversy which he has restated, in the light in which it strikes the sagacity of such a reviewer.
“The character of Origen,” says Mr. Belsham, “ and the existence of an orthodox Hebrew church at Ælia, which discarded the rites of the law, are the principal topics of controversy between Dr. Horsley and Dr. Priestley. Other questions, however, of minor importance occasionally intervened.” P. 25.
| Such indisputably was the channel into which Dr. Priestley
industriously laboured to divert the controversy, from the
original fundamental question, on the testimony of Ecclesiastical
. l Antiquity, vol. Iv, NovKMBER, 1815,