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indirectly, solicited by myself. For a considerable time I declined the use of them, though contrary to universal custom. I then prefixed them to my philosophical writings only; but being informed that as my other writings went abroad, it would be considered as an affront to the societies which, justly or unjustly, had bestowed them, if they were omitted, I have very lately begun to prefix them to most, but not to all my publications.
Had not Mr. Howes so expressly disclaimed all the arts of controversy, and asserted that all his observations were on books, and not on authors, it might have been thought that some of the remarks I have animadverted upon were of the latter class. For my own part, I profess to be a controversial writer, because I consider fair controversy as a valuable means of discovering and ascertaining truth; but I should think myself disgraced by so much of the art of it as you must see to have been adopted by Mr. Howes, even in what is quoted in this introductory letter, which I conclude by subscribing myself,
Of the Doctrine of the Ebionites.
HAVING given you some idea of the temper with which Mr. Howes engages in this controversy, (though on his side it must by no means be so denominated,) and of the opinion which he entertains of myself, and of my writings, and also of himself and his writings, I now proceed to the question in debate.
The position which I have endeavoured to establish in my History of Early Opinions concerning Jesus Christ," is, that the primitive church was properly Unitarian, that the great mass of common, unlearned Christians continued to be so till near the Council of Nice, and that it was a considerable time before Unitarianism was considered as heretical. I have also endeavoured to shew at large, that the doctrine of the Trinity had its origin in Platonism. Both these positions Mr. Howes denies. He even denies the existence of any such doctrine as that of Unitarianism (which he quaintly calls Humanism) in the two first centuries, and is inclined
to do it even till the time of Socinus, or about the year 1500. He denies it both with respect to the orthodox and the heretics. "Dr. Priestley," he says, "has not, and cannot fix upon any one Christian sect of the first ages (as I defy him to do) whom he can prove to have disbelieved in the divinity of the Christ." In the title page of his work, he says, "No such Christians ever existed except in Utopia, during the two first centuries, as those whom Dr. Priestley calls ancient Unitarians, that is, who were not believers in the divinity of the Christ, in some mode or other."
In attempting to answer such an extravagant assertion as this, I feel as I should do if I were required to prove that there were any such people as the ancient Britons, and that the Saxons were intruders in this country. For, to deny them is equally to abandon all faith in history. Mr. Howes, indeed, acknowledges that he is nearly, at least, singular in his opinion. It is "a subject," he says, " which has never been hitherto sufficiently attended to by former writers, who have too readily conceded, or rather acquiesced without inquiry, in the confident assertions of the Unitarians, that there did exist, in the first two Christian ages, some sects who disbelieved the divinity of Christ." If, therefore, I be in an error, it seeins that I am not, like Mr. Howes, singular, or nearly singular, in it. I err in good company, and in that of the orthodox as well as that of the heterodox; and if I have adopted a mistake, I have not the guilt of being the first to start it.
As Mr. Howes cannot deny but that ancient sects of Christians are said by the earliest writers to have called Christ a mere man, he says, "All the evidence produced by Dr. Priestley that the Ebionites believed the Christ to be merely man, is only by some brief and summary expressions, found in several of the fathers, when they were reasoning upon some other subject; wherein they had no intention of explaining the whole of the Ebionitish creed, but introduced incidentally only so much of it as made for their own reasoning in those particular passages." We shall soon see how this hypothesis accords with the facts.
I have clearly shewn that, by the confession of all the Christian fathers, who were certainly interested to deny the fact if they could, neither Christ himself, nor any of the apostles before John, taught his pre-existence or divinity, with clearness, and that the chief reason which they assigned
for it was, that the prejudices of the Jews, in favour of their Messiah being a mere man, were so strong, that their minds would have revolted at it. The Christian world in general, therefore, not having been instructed in these doctrines, could not have believed them till after the time in which John published his gospel, which was generally supposed to be after the death of the other apostles, and the destruction of Jerusalem. But before this time, Christianity, in its Unitarian state, was received in almost every part of the Roman empire.
However, great changes in opinion are never brought about suddenly, or without circumstances which prove their reality; and since we cannot find the least trace of any change having been produced in the Christian world by the writings of John, we are necessarily led to infer, that the notion of John having taught the doctrines of the pre-existence and the divinity of Christ is an improbable hypothesis, though the best that could be thought of to account for a fact, the reality of which the Christian fathers could not deny, viz. the existence of Unitarianism in the great mass of the common people, in their own times and those immediately preceding them.
I have shewn that all the Jewish Christians were called Ebionites or Nazarenes, and that, according to the unanimous testimony of the ancients, they did not believe in the pre-existence, or the divinity of Christ, though some of them believed in his miraculous conception. It is pretended that besides the Ebionites and Nazarenes, who are acknowledged to have been unbelievers in the divinity of Christ, there were other Jewish Christians who believed that doctrine. But I find no trace of any such persons. Since Mr. Howes, however, denies that even the Ebionites or Nazarenes disbelieved that doctrine, it may be useful to produce sufficient authority for the common opinion, in reply to him; and, not to trouble you with unnecessary quotations from original writers, in doing this I shall, in most cases, content myself with referring you to my "History of early Opinions concerning Christ," in which you will find the passages at full ngth.
The first Christian writer who mentions the Ebionites by that name is Irenæus; and nothing can be more evident than that, contrary to what Mr. Howes asserts, his argument shews that he could not have considered them as believing the divinity of Christ. "God will judge them," he says, "and how can they be saved, if it be not God that works
out their salvation upon earth?" Again he says, "If they persist in their error, not receiving the word of incorruption, they continue in mortal flesh, and are subject to death, not receiving the antidote of life."
I appeal to you, gentlemen, whether this writer could have argued in this manner, or have expressed himself so harshly, if he had considered the Ebionites as believing the divinity of Christ. This testimony of Irenæus is alone abundantly sufficient to prove that, in his opinion, the Ebionites were no believers in the divinity of Christ.
Tertullian, whom you will find Mr. Howes quotes as holding a different opinion, says, that Ebion" did not think that Jesus was the Son of God," probably meaning that he thought him to be the Son of Joseph. But no person, I apprehend, ever disbelieved the miraculous conception, and at the same admitted the divinity of Christ, whether the connexion between these opinions be necessary or not.
The testimony of Origen is particularly express. He says, "Those of the Jews who believe Jesus to be the Christ are called Ebionites.-Some thinking him to be the son of Joseph and Mary, and others of Mary only and the Divine Spirit, but not believing his divinity."t
This is so contrary to Mr. Howes's assertion, that he thought it necessary to make an observation upon it." If Origen's words," he says, " be attended to, it seems evident that he never meant to apply the appellation of Ebionites to the Jewish Christians in general, in any other than in a loose sense, just as the members of the Church of England are called Calvinists; meaning only as to their general principles, and not that they are lineally descended from the original Calvinists in Switzerland." But certainly they would not be called Calvinists at all, if they were not supposed to hold the distinguishing principles of Calvinism. So neither would Origen have asserted of the Ebionites in general, that they disbelieved the divinity of Christ, and that all the Jewish believers were called Ebionites, if it had not been his opinion that the Jewish Christians in general, and even those before his own time, held the opinion which he ascribes to them. The probability will always be, that bodies of men receive their doctrines from their ancestors.
Eusebius almost copies Origen in his account of the two sorts of Ebionites, saying of Christ, "They think him to be
* Hist. B. iii. Ch. x. ↑ Appendix, p. 83.
See Vol. VI. (P.)
+ Hist. B. iii. Ch. viii. See Vol. VI.
merely a man, like other men ;" and of those who believe the miraculous conception, he expressly speaks of them as "by no means allowing that Christ was God, the word, and wisdom."*
Epiphanius, whose authority Mr. Howes pretends to be in his favour, says, " Ebion himself held that Christ was a mere man, born as other men are."†
With respect to the Nazarenes, whom I have proved to be the very same with the Ebionites, Theodoret says they "are Jews, who honour Christ as a righteous man," which he would never have contented himself with saying, if he had supposed that they believed in his divinity.
Epiphanius could never have considered the Nazarenes as believers in the divinity of Christ, when he represented them as people who, "on hearing the name of Jesus only, and the miracles performed by the apostles, believe on him."§ It is evident that he considered them as not having heard of his divinity, and he speaks of both the Ebionites and Nazarenes, as requiring to be taught the divinity of Christ by John.||
I have no occasion to pursue this evidence any farther, as all the later writers, without exception, agree with those that I have already quoted. I shall therefore close my present letter, and in my next consider what Mr. Howes has advanced to invalidate this evidence.
I am, &c.
Of the true Meaning of a Passage in Tertullian, and another in Epiphanius, quoted by Mr. Howes.
THE passages on which Mr. Howes lays the greatest stress are one or two in Epiphanius, who, as I have observed, ascribes to some of the Ebionites a tenet of the Gnostics, viz. that the Christ was a super-angelic, created being, who descended into Jesus at his baptism, in which I doubt not he ascribes to them the opinion of the Cerinthians; and this is not much to be wondered at, as the Cerinthians were Jewish Christians, as well as the Ebionites. The passages may be seen in my History.
But in them he speaks of
+ Hist. B. iii. Ch. x. See Vol. VI. Hist. B. iii. Ch. viii. See Vol. VI. B. iii. Ch. x. See Vol. VI.