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this Christ of the Ebionites as created, and what divinity can that be? Mr. Howes, indeed, strangely talks of degrees of divinity. But this is to me as incomprehensible as the doctrine of the Trinity. "In regard to the degree of divinity," Mr. Howes says, "whether the Christ of the Ebionites was a superior, or only subordinate divinity, or no divinity at all, but merely a super-human spirit, this is a question of debate merely between the orthodox and Arians, not between the orthodox and the Humanists."* I think, however, that, if Mr. Howes maintains that the Christ of the Ebionites was God, and I maintain that he was not, the question is between him and me, if there be any question between us at all. If this Christ had no divinity at all, surely I am justified in saying that the Ebionites did not believe the divinity of Christ, in any sense of the word, and Mr. Howes can have no reason for contesting what I advance.
Mr. Howes imagines that he has found two authorities to support the opinion which he had ascribed to Epiphanius. The first is from Tertullian, whom I shall quote more at length than Mr. Howes has done, and shew that he has grossly misapprehended his meaning. The passage is in his treatise De Carne Christi, in which, having spoken of Christ as being made lower than the angels, he says, that "it was as man, having the flesh and the soul of man. But as the spirit of God, and the power of the Most High, he could not be lower than the angels, being God, and the Son of God. As much, therefore, as when he carried the man, he was less than the angels, by so much when he carried the angel, he was not less than they. This opinion may agree with that of Ebion, who supposed Jesus to be a mere man, only of the seed of David, that is, not the Son of God; clearly, however, in some respects more glorious than the prophets, so that an angel may be said to have been in him, as in Zachariah, though it is never expressly said so concerning Christ.t
"From this passage," Mr. Howes says, it is plain that
* Appendix, p. 107. (P.)
"Minuisti eum modicum quid citra angelos, quomodo videbitur angelum induisse, sic infra angelos diminutus, dum homo sit, qua caro et anima et filius hominis? Qua autem spiritus Dei et virtus altissimi non potest infra angelos haberi. Deus scilicet et Dei filius. Quanto ergo dum hominem gestat minor angelis factus est, tanto non dum angelum gestat. Poterit hæc opinio Hebioni convenire, qui nudum hominem, et tantum ex semine David, id est non et Dei filium constituit Jesum. Plane angelis aliquo gloriosiorem ut ita in illo angelus fuisse dicatur quemadmodum in aliquo Zecharia." De Carne Christi, Sect. xiv. (P.)
"they (the Gnostics and Ebionites) did not look upon Jesus himself as the Christ, or chief agent; but only as the receptacle of a superior agent; and whether this angel be considered as partaking in any degree of a divine nature, or not, yet this makes no difference of any moment. It was still not Jesus, a mere man, who was, according to them, the Christ, but some superior being, of a divine nature or of an intermediate nature between divinity and humanity."*
Now, certainly, what Mr. Howes calls a difference of no moment, viz. whether this Christ was God, or not, is, as I have observed, the only difference between him and me. But he totally misconstrues the passage, the meaning of which is as follows: Tertullian describes the doctrine of the Ebionites, by saying, that they believed Jesus to be a mere man; but to give him some advantage over other prophets, they said, that an angel spake in him (not to him). This is all that, according to Tertullian, they acknowledged. But they did not say that this angel was any part of Christ, or united to him, but a very different being. Tertullian, indeed, says how far, in his own opinion, their doctrine might be reconciled with that of the orthodox, as the divine principle in Jesus might be called an angel. But this is entirely his own construction, and a very harsh one, by which he misrepresents the tenets of the orthodox themselves; according to which, the divine principle in Christ was no angel, but the uncreated logos of the Father, that principle which created all angels. Such is this boasted authority for the concurrence of Tertullian with Epiphanius, in maintaining that the Ebionites were believers in the divinity of Christ; when both of them, in other passages, clearly assert the very contrary.
In this very passage Tertullian mentions his own opinion as that of Christ being God, and the Son of God, that is, as possessed of divinity; and that of the Ebionites as of his not being the Son of God, that is, as the son of Joseph, and having no divinity. Besides, he represents the opinion of the Ebionites, as that of there being only such a difference between Christ and the other prophets, as between Zachariah and the other prophets, in consequence of an angel speaking in him, and not to him. But will Mr. Howes himself say, that it was their opinion, that Zachariah, in consequence of an angel speaking in him, and not to him, was himself an angel, or a God?
* Appendix, p. 33. (P.)
But Mr. Howes pretends to have the authority of Theodoret, as well as that of Tertullian, in support of that of Epiphanius. But even bere his argument is more extraordinary than that from Tertullian. You will naturally imagine, that if Theodoret had really been of opinion that the Ebionites were believers in the divinity of Christ, he would have advanced it in that section of his history which is appropriated to the opinions of the Ebionites; I shall therefore recite the whole of that section.
Having, in the first book of his Heretical Fables, given an account of the Gnostics, who held the doctrine of two principles, he proceeds in his second book to give an account of those who, he says, held a directly opposite doctrine. "The first of this phalanx," he says, "was Ebion, which, in the Hebrew language, signifies Poor. He said, as we do, that there is one uncaused Being, and that he is the maker of the world, but that our Lord Jesus Christ was born of Joseph and Mary, being a man, but excelling in virtue and purity all other men, and living according to the law of Moses. They use no other gospel than that according to the Hebrews, and call the apostle," meaning Paul, "an apostate. Of these was Symmachus, who translated the Scriptures of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. There is, however, another division of them besides this, having the same denomination, (for they also are called Ebionites,) and in every thing else agree with the former, but say that our Saviour and Lord was born of a virgin. They use no other gospel than that according to Matthew; they keep their sabbath as the Jews do, but they also observe the Lord's-day as we do."*
This is the whole of the section of Theodoret concerning the Ebionites, and do you perceive in it, Gentlemen, any trace of his supposing that the Ebionites were believers in the divinity of Christ? On the contrary, is it not evident that he represents them as believing his mere humanity? I really think that if Mr. Howes himself had seen this ar
Ταυτησι δε της φαλαγγος ηρξεν Εβιων, τον πτωχον δε οὕτως Εβραίοι προσαγορεύεσιν. Ούτου ένα μεν αγεννητον έφη, παραπλησίως ἡμιν, και αυτον εδειξεν είναι το κοσμο δημιερ γον, τον δε Κύριον Ιησεν Χριςον εξ Ιωσηφ και της Μαριας εφησε γεγεννήσθαι, ανθρωπον μέν όντα, αρετῇ δε και καθαρότητι των αλλων διαφέροντα, κατα δε τον Μωσαικον πολιτεύοντα νομον. Μόνον δε το κατά Εβραιος ευαγγελίον δέχονται, τον δε αποςολον αποςατην καλεσι. Εκ τέτων ην Συμμαχου, ὃς την παλαιαν γραφην εκ της Εβραιων μεταθεικώς εις την Ελλαδα φωνην. Αλλη δε παρα ταυτην συμμορία την αυτην επωνυμίαν εχεσα, Εβιώνεις γαρ και οὗτοι προσαγορεύονται, τα αλλα δε απαντα συνομολογει τοις προτέροις, τον δε Σωτηρα και Κύριον ἐκ παρθενε γεγεννήσθαι φησιν. Ευαγγέλιῳ δε τῷ κατα Ματθαιον κεχρηνται μενῳ, και το μεν σαββατον κατα τον Ιεδαίων τίμωσι νόμον, την δε κυριακήν καθιέρωση, παραπλησίως ἡμῖν. (Ρ.)
ticle, he would never have claimed the authority of Theodoret. How, then, does he pretend to it? Not directly, but very indirectly indeed.
"Epiphanius," he says, " in his brief summary concerning the Elcesaites, says expressly that they held nearly the same opinions in all things with the Ebionites.-Now that the Elcesaites believed in the descent of a divine Christ, and his union with the humanity of Jesus, is proved by all writers, but particularly by Theodoret, who says, They believe there is one unbegotten Being, and him they call the maker of all things; yet they do not say that Christ was one, but that there was one above, and another below, and that he had formerly dwelt in many persons, but that at last he descended. Jesus also, as Elcsai says sometimes, was ex Deo; but that at other times he calls him a spirit, and sometimes that a virgin was his mother; in other writings, however, not even this. Again he says, that he passes into other bodies, and at every time he appeared differently."+
Thus because such a writer as Epiphanius says, that the Ebionites agreed nearly in all things with the Elcesaites, and, according to Theodoret, these believed the descent of a created spirit, called Christ, into Jesus, the Ebionites believed the divinity of Christ. Many things are wanting to make this a good syllogism. I shall not even take the trouble to point them out. That the Christ of the Elcesaites was not God, is evident from his supposed transmigrations.
Mr. Howes supposes, that "both Epiphanius and Tertullian" borrowed their account of the Ebionites from Justin Martyr's lost Treatise against Heretics. But there is not the least probability in the conjecture. It is impossible to read the two remarkable passages in which Justin gives an account of heresies, § without being satisfied that, in his idea, the Gnostics were the only heretics. Of the Unitarians, he speaks with respect, and even apologizes to them for differing from them.
A circumstance of extreme improbability in Mr. Howes's scheme, sufficient of itself to explode it, is, that all the difference between the Ebionites and the orthodox was the time in which the union between the divine and human nature in Christ took place: the orthodox saying it was at the con
Which, it appears from p. 46, he had not. (P.) Mr. Howes says, "I am prevented from quoting the Greek, by not having such an edition at hand." He relied on "Lardner and the Latin translator." Ibid.
Appendix, pp. 44-46. (P.)
Ibid. p. 30. (P.)
ception of Jesus, and the Ebionites, at his baptism; for he says nothing of any difference between them with respect to his strange notion of the kind or degree of divinity. But can any person seriously believe that so small a difference as this could have been the occasion of so much animosity as the orthodox shewed towards the Ebionites? If the only difference had been the circumstance of time, this would have been principally insisted upon in their censures; as, if the point of difference had been the degree of divinity, the degree would have been insisted upon, and not divinity, or no divinity, which is always the case.
Mr. Howes thought it of some consequence to fix the origin of the Ebionites, whom I have supposed to be coeval with the apostles. On the contrary, Mr. Howes says, "We find no certain proof of the existence of any Ebionites before 98. It is the time when the fathers suppose St. John to have writ his gospel, which determines the date of the rise both of Ebionites and Nazarenes, as sectaries."*
To prove that the Ebionites were subsequent to " Aquila and Theodotion," Mr. Howes quotes Irenæus, who, after citing their interpretation of a Hebrew word, "adds, Quos secuti Ebionitæ, ex Josepho eum generatum dicunt. "†
This argument is curious, as it is evident that all that Irenæus meant was, that the Ebionites agreed with Aquila and Theodotion, (who were, in fact, of their own body, and, therefore, could not be prior to them,) in the interpretation of the word in question. According to Jerome, Theodotion was "an Ebionite," and certainly not the first of the sect; so also was Symmachus, who was contemporary with Justin Martyr. Besides, Eusebius says, that the denomination of Ebionites was given by "the first heralds of our Saviour," which certainly carries them to the age of the apostles.
The late date of John's gospel, which Mr. Howes says the Christian fathers supposed, is greatly favourable to my purpose; for they all represent him as the first who taught with clearness and effect the doctrines of the pre-existence and divinity of Christ; for the later this was done, the longer time there had been for the doctrine of the simple humanity of Christ to establish itself.
What Mr. Howes has undertaken in his last publication, is, to prove that all the ancient heretics were believers in the
Appendix, p. 58. (P.)
Hist. B. iii. Ch. xii. See Vol. VI.
† Ibid. p. 56. (P.) § Hist. B. iii. Ch. viii. See Vol. VI.