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quence you employ on the subject; but I own I see in it little of argument, or even of plausibility. For the greater perspicuity, I shall state my objections to what you have urged in a number of observations, that their strength, whether viewed separately or jointly, may be more distinctly seen; and at the same time, that if there be any latent fallacy in them, it may be more easily detected.
First. You call the Nicene fathers, "the representatives of the whole Christian church."* Now, in my opinion, they represented the Christian church in no other sense than our House of Lords might be said to represent the English nation. There was no House of Commons in that assembly. There were none to speak the sentiments of the common people, which I have shewn at large, and, from the acknowledgments of several of those fathers themselves, to have been very different from theirs.
Secondly. This celebrated council being held in the year 325, † is too remote from the age of the apostles to be expected (considering the influences to which the learned Christians had been exposed) to retain the primitive doctrine concerning Christ. The doctrines of Plato appear to have been in the Christian church as early as the age of Justin Martyr, who wrote about A. D. 140. From that time almost all the learned Christians imbibed them; and the consequence of this was, such a rapid departure from the primitive doctrine, that we could not reasonably expect to find it among such bishops as were assembled at Nice,
This consideration alone furnishes a sufficient answer to your irrefragable "prescriptive argument." Had the council been held in the age immediately following that of the apostles, or had the learned Christians confined themselves to the study of the Scriptures, and known nothing of Heathen philosophy; had no enemy sown tares among the good seed, your argument would have had some weight. But this council being held two centuries and a half after the age of the apostles, and near two centuries after the introduction of Platonism into Christianity, I cannot allow it to have any weight at all.
Thirdly. I need not remind you, Sir, who appear to know human nature and mankind very well, and who acknowledge that "the fathers assembled at Nice were, both severally
Letter, p. 18. (P.) VOL. XVIII.
+ See Vol. VIII. pp. 294–304. 2 F
and conjunctly, an assembly of fallible men,"* that the inclination of the emperor, (who appears by his speech to them † to have been deeply tinctured with the doctrines of Plato,) and that of those bishops who had his confidence, being well known, there would be a great leaning to their opinion; and that the more conscientious of those who, if they had attended, must have been under the disagreeable necessity of opposing it, would find excuses, and stay at home. Three hundred and eighteen was far from being the whole number of Christian bishops in that age.
Fourthly. If you consider the part that either Constantine himself, or the professed enemies of Arius took in the business of this celebrated Council, you must acknowledge that very little can be said for the liberty of it. I shall only call to your recollection a few circumstances mentioned by Tillemont, to whose authority or impartiality you will not object.
On declaring himself a Christian, Constantine was extremely desirous to promote the unity of the church, and for that purpose first wrote, by Hosius, to Alexandria, on the subject. This measure not succeeding, at the earnest request of Hosius and Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, he summoned the Council of Nice, § but not till he had threatened the clergy among the followers of Arius with serving in the public offices, if they did not quit the society of so wicked a master, and agree to the pure faith of the church.
When Constantine came to the council, he omitted nothing in his power to make the fathers unanimous in their decisions. || Many of the friends of Arius were induced to join in his condemnation, for fear of banishment, to which Arius himself, and two of his firmer friends were actually sent. After this, the emperor ordered all the books of Arius to be burned, and those who concealed them to be put to death. These are some of the particulars relating to the conduct of Constantine.
The greatest opposers of Arius, those who may be called his personal enemies, were Alexander, Athanasius, and Hosius. The last had presided in a council at Alexandria, in which Arius was condemned. Athanasius calls him the conductor of all the councils. Alexander had so much in
Letter, p. 12. (P.)
† See Vol. VIII. p. 304. § See ibid. p. 294.
See ibid. p. 304.
fluence at the Council of Nice, that he is said to have been the master of all things in it. Athanasius also had great weight there; and had it depended upon him, Arianism had been extinguished in it. Hosius composed the creed, but Athanasius himself assisted in it.
These, Sir, are only translations of different passages in the history that Tillemont gives of the Council of Nice. Do you, then, who are not ignorant of human nature or human affairs, say what chance Arianism, if it had been the truth, could have had in those circumstances, or how far a declaration agreeable to the genuine and primitive doctrines of Christianity was to be expected from the fathers at Nice?
Fifthly. In the very next reign, when the emperor was an Arian, there were as numerous assemblies of Arian bishops, in the same part of the world, as there were of Trinitarian ones at Nice; and a little before the Council of Nice, there were assemblies of the clergy both in Bithynia and Palestine, which Tillemont calls councils, which were in favour of Arius; so that, by the same mode of reasoning which you have adopted, it might be proved that Arianism was the primitive doctrine concerning Christ.
Sixthly. Your argument, admitting the justness of your medium of proof, will prove a great deal too much; for it will not only prove that the primitive doctrine was the divinity of Christ in general, but also that kind of divinity which those fathers ascribed to him, a kind which I imagine that you, Sir, will not maintain; for it is not the present Catholic doctrine, and, indeed, soon ceased to be so, as I have shewn at large in my "History of Early Opinions concerning Christ." Those fathers universally held that the divinity of the Son was greatly inferior to that of the Father, and had its origin in the reason of the Father, which, having been first in him as an attribute, afterwards became a person. Will you or any person, at this day, maintain that this was the primitive doctrine concerning Christ, that which was held and taught by the apostles?
Seventhly. The Council of Nice was held for the express purpose of the condemnation of one particular opinion, in which the Unitarians had no concern. It was to condemn the doctrine of Arius, who held that Christ was a creature, produced from nothing, (ex Twv ex ovтwv,) and that there (εκ των οντων,) was a time when he was not. In opposition to this, the Trinitarians held that the Son was no creature, but of the same substance (uoso) with the Father; and that, having been the proper reason of the Father, there could never
have been any time in which he was not; for that then the Father would have been without reason. Such, you well know, was the reasoning of the time on the subject.
On these two opinions, the Unitarians could much more easily adopt the language of the Trinitarians, than that of the Arians. For many of them also had learned to philosophize, though not so much as the Trinitarians; and acknowledging, as all Unitarians do, that a divine power resided and acted in Christ, they said that this divine power was that of the Father, and therefore might be said to be the Father, who, being in Christ, did the works by which his divine mission was evidenced. They, therefore, thought themselves authorized to say that the Father and the Son were one and the same, and of course μs, or of the same substance. A Sabellian, therefore, might adopt the language of the Council of Nice. This is acknowledged by the learned Beausobre. And Marcellus of Ancyra did most vehemently oppose Arius in that council; a conduct which the Arians never forgave him.
I am, &c.
Of the State of Unitarianism in the primitive Times.
THE preceding observations, in my opinion, furnish a sufficient answer to your irrefragable prescriptive argument. But, to my great surprise, you farther say, "If the divinity and pre-existence of Christ was not a tenet of primitive Christianity, there must have been a period, prior to the Nicæan Council, when it was accounted a heresy, and when the non-divinity was as universally taught, as the sole orthodox doctrine. Be pleased, then, to point out that period, and prove that it existed, not by negatives, presumptions, and arguments from improbability, but by clear, positive testimony. For until you do this, I shall always consider the decision of the Nicæan Synod as an irrefragable proof, that the divinity of our Lord was an original article of the Catholic faith."*
Again you say, "I think you should have endeavoured, and been able, to shew when, and by whom, and in what manner, such an important revolution was brought about;
* Letter, p. 32. (P.)
who was the first broacher of the novel opinion, what opposition it met with, which of the apostolic sees was the first to embrace it, and by what wonderful influence it got possession of all the rest; without noise, without resistance, without any of those circumstances that always attend the introduction of a novelty in matters of religion, especially when the contradictory of an established opinion is attempted to be introduced.'
Now all this, or as much of it as any reasonable man can require, I have actually done, in my History of Early Opinions concerning Christ." By a distinct exhibition of the doctrines of Platonism, by an abundant proof of their having been adopted by the Christian fathers, and from the near resemblance between them and the doctrine of the Trinity in the first stage of it, I think I have made it most evident, that it had that origin, and no other. No child ever proved its own parent more clearly than this does.
I have also shewn, in the fullest manner, that the Trinitarian doctrine was considered as an innovation, and that it gave the greatest offence to the common people, though, by the plausible representations and frequent apologies of the learned Christians, they were kept tolerably quiet; till, by means of the overbearing influence of the governing powers, and also that of the great see of Rome, all opposition to the novel doctrine had no effect; notwithstanding, the strongest remonstrances did not fail to be made against it in every period.
I have shewn, Sir, that it was universally acknowledged by the Christian fathers, Antenicene, Nicene, and Postnicene, that the first converts to Christianity, Jews and Gentiles, were so firmly persuaded of the simple humanity of Christ, that the apostles themselves did not choose to teach openly and clearly any other doctrine. I have shewn that those Unitarians were never considered as heretics, notwithstanding their opinion differed so much from that which was held by those who afterwards appropriated to themselves the title of Catholic. I have produced a variety of other evidence, of the most satisfactory kind, to prove that the primitive Christian church was Unitarian, and to no part of it have you so much as adverted in your Letter; so that in the idea of these fathers, the believers in the simple humanity of Christ were not "a few obscure sectaries," as you call them.†
* Letter, p. 20. (P.)
+ Ibid. p. 5. (P.)