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You make very light of the Ebionites; but, according to the testimony of Origen, they were the whole body of Jewish Christians, of whom some, he says, believed the miraculous conception of Jesus, and others did not, but none of them believed his divinity. Is their opinion and testimony to be esteemed of no value, when ancient doctrines are sought for? If this be not the positive testimony you require, what is so?
You do not even appear to be apprized of the great object of my work, which was not only to trace the rise and progress of the doctrine of the Trinity, but also to shew that, though the learned Christians, from Justin Martyr to the Council of Nice, held the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, the greater part of the common people were believers in his simple humanity.
Besides, the more learned Christians may easily be supposed to have departed from the primitive doctrine concerning Christ, as they were peculiarly exposed to influences which must have operated very powerfully to produce that effect; whereas the common people were not subject to that dangerous influence, and therefore were much more likely to retain the original doctrine transmitted from the apostles, who certainly were not Platonists, and indeed could never have understood such a system as that of the Nicene fathers. Universal experience and observation shew, that old opinions are longest retained by the common people, and that innovations begin with the learned and speculative. These things, Sir, you should have noticed, if you had proposed to make any effectual reply to my work.
I am not much less surprised at the following paragraph in your letter: "Is it not strange," you say, passing strange, that, in not one of those assemblies," (viz. about forty councils held after that of Nice,)" neither at Alexandria, nor Antioch, nor Cæsarea, nor Sardica, nor Jerusalem, nor Constantinople, nor Sirmium, nor Milan, nor Rome, nor Rimini, there should not be a single voice raised in favour of Socinianism, a single pen employed to defend it, a single authority quoted in its support? And that, while the whole body of Christians were engaged in a controversy about two opinions, both equally false, the only true dogma should be overlooked, should be rejected, should be anathematized by all? This, I confess, is to
* Letter, p. 16. (P.)
me inconceivable-is, in the nature of things, hardly possible."*
Had I not the most perfect confidence in your impartiality and love of truth, I should have concluded from this paragraph, that you had not so much as read the work on which you have animadverted. I cannot help suspecting, however, that, imagining your one prescriptive argument to be abundantly sufficient for your purpose, you contented yourself with giving but a slight attention to the greater part of my work; and that the few traces which the hasty perusal of it left in your mind, were wholly effaced at the time of writing your Letter to me.
Nay, the surprise you express would have been precluded, if you had sufficiently attended to what you yourself justly say of the history of the times which followed the Council of Nice, viz. that" in them Arianism and Athanasianism alternately triumphed."+ Unitarianism was not the object of any of those councils, except those which were called on the account of Photinus, and we have no particulars of what passed in any of them. At that time the emperors and leading bishops were all either Arians or Athanasians; and having to combat with one another, they overlooked the Unitarians, whose party was then so low, (not with respect to numbers, but to rank and consideration,) that they had nothing to fear from them. How, then, is it inconceivable, that their opinions should be anathematized by both, parties, when they were equally hostile to both?
To anticipate my reply to some part of the preceding paragraph, you add, "You will say, perhaps, that even at that time Socinianism was not entirely without its witnesses among the bishops themselves, and refer me to Paul of Antioch, and Photinus of Sirmium. That both these were in some measure Socinians, I grant; but this serves only to give a greater degree of strength to my argument. For, in what light was their doctrine considered by their fellowbishops, and what were the consequences of their teaching it? They were regarded as blasphemous innovators, threatened with immediate deposition, and excommunicated by both parties. If you think, then, that you can avail yourself of such a testimony, you are welcome to use it; and you may add all the other similar testimonies you can glean through all the preceding ages, from Paul of Antioch
⚫ Letter, p. 23. (P.)
↑ Ibid. p. 22. _ (P.) ✰ In the time of Paul of Antioch, Arianism had no existence. (P.)
up to Cerinthus: all this, when put in the balance with the testimony of the Nicæan fathers, to me appears a grain against a hundred weight."
In this paragraph, and in this alone, you look back to the time preceding the Council of Nice; and the state of things being very different in the different periods of that time, what you say does not apply to them all alike. The Unitarians were by no means considered in the same light from the age of Cerinthus, which was that of the apostles, to that of Paul of Antioch, and much less to that of Photinus, though you make no difference in the case. In that of Cerinthus, and long after, they were so far from being considered, or treated, as heretics, that it was universally acknowledged that Unitarianism was the only doctrine which the unlearned Christians had been taught, even by the apostles themselves; and they were so far from being excommunicated, that by the confession of their adversaries, till the publication of John's gospel, after the destruction of Jerusalem, there was no other opinion among the common people. No creed, no sentence of any council, ever presumed to call them heretics. On the contrary, they boldly charged the Trinitarians, as soon as they appeared, notwithstanding all their apologies, and the art with which their doctrine was introduced, as innovators in the scheme of Christianity. In the time of Tertullian the major pars, the majority of Christians held this language, and the wandos, the multitude, in the time of Athanasius.
If you even confine your attention to the writers, in defence of Unitarianism, who always bear a very small proportion even to the reading and thinking part of any sect, and a still smaller to those who do not read and think, but follow the leading of others, (which is the case with the great mass of all ranks of men,) they will not appear so inconsiderable as you hastily represent them, (especially as it is allowed that the generality of the learned Christians were addicted to Platonism,) beginning with Symmachus, and ending with Photinus; who, in the late age in which he lived, was so popular in his diocese, that three synods, under an Arian emperor, were necessary to expel him; and who continued writing to an advanced age, treating every doctrine except the Unitarian with just contempt. Among other treatises, he wrote one on the subject of heresy; and though, in the early ages, this term had been synonymous to Gnosticism,
* Letter, p. 24. (P.)
it is very possible that, as his enemies had treated him as a heretic, he, who appears to have had no dread of them, treated them as heretics in return.
Two synods were necessary to condemn even Paul of Antioch, and the power of the emperor was called in to expel him from the episcopal house, notwithstanding his accusation contained many articles besides matters of doctrine. It appeared probable to Dr. Lardner, that both Firmilian of Cappadocia, and the famous Gregory of Neocæsarea, favoured him. That the diocese of the latter swarmed with Unitarians, in a much later period, is evident from the epistles of Basil, which are very instructive, and give us a clear idea how unpopular, even among the clergy of those_parts, were the great defenders of orthodoxy in that age. Low as you. may think the Unitarian interest to have been after the Council of Nice, I doubt not but that an Unitarian emperor, or perhaps an Unitarian pope, would soon have turned the scale in its favour. But it pleased Divine Providence that the genuine doctrine of the gospel should then have no support from such quarters; and that it should now revive by its own evidence, when all kings, all popes, and all bishops, are still against it.
"In the works of the Antenicene fathers," you say, "whether genuine or spurious, there is not, I think, besides the Clementine Romance, a single work that speaks directly the language of Socinus."†
But you well know that many were written, and you cannot wonder that they are not now extant. Let not the orthodox reproach us with the want of that evidence which they may have been the means of suppressing.
Considering the time when the Clementine homilies were written, as early probably as the writings of Justin Martyr, (in my opinion prior to them,) much more may be inferred from them in favour of Unitarianism than you seem willing to allow. The author of that work was a learned Christian, and a fine writer, much superior to Justin Martyr. He discusses at great length the philosophical opinions of the apostolic age, which were then generally opposed to Christianity, but which were afterwards incorporated into it. But he combats them solely on Unitarian principles; and not only so, but without giving any hint of there being any other held by Christians, on which they were, or could be, combated; whereas the Platonizing fathers, who wrote
• See Lardner's Works, III. pp. 42, 85.
+ Letter, p. 33. (P.)
against the same general principles, went upon quite different ground.
Now is it probable that so ingenious and learned a writer could do this, and be acquainted with any other mode of proceeding? Considering the number of incidents and discourses introduced into that work, I think it highly probable that, if the writer had even known of such persons as Platonizing Christians, or their doctrine of the Logos, he would have made some mention of it there, it had so near a connexion with his subject. I am therefore strongly inclined to suppose, that he had never heard of such a writer as Justin Martyr, and that the doctrine of the Logos, as the reason of the Father, which laid the foundation for the subsequent doctrine of the Trinity, as it is now held, had not been started in his time. Consequently, I am inclined to think, that when this work was composed, there were no classes of Christians besides Unitarians and Gnostics.
When all these things (and many more you will find in my work) are considered, can you say, as you do, that, "When the whole is put into the balance with the testimony of the Nicene fathers, it is no more than a grain against a hundred weight?"* Indeed, Sir, the things that ought to have been weighed were either never put into the balance, or it was held by a very unequal hand.
I am, &c.
Of the Degree of Christ's Divinity, and the Conclusion. REV. SIR,
I CANNOT close these Letters without animadverting upon another circumstance on which you touch much too slightly. My task," you say, "is barely to shew that the divinity of Jesus Christ was, in some sense or other, an original article of belief;" and again, "In what precise sense I should understand his godhead, I might be puzzled to determine."+
Had this language been addressed to the apostles, they would probably have replied, Thou bringest strange things to our ears; for they do not appear to me ever to have heard of such a thing as kinds or degrees of divinity. In the Scriptures nothing is said but of one kind of proper divinity. Mention is there made of one true God, and of many false Ibid. p. 53. (P.)
Letter, p. 25. P.)
† Ibid. p. 5. (P.) '