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ARGUMENTS FROM HISTORY AGAINST THE DIVINITY AND
Or a Summary View of the Evidence for the Primitive Christians having held the Doctrine of the Simple Humanity of Christ.*
(See supra, p. 46.)
1. Ir is acknowledged by early writers of the orthodox persuasion, that two kinds of heresy existed in the times of the apostles, viz. that of those who held that Christ was simply a man, and that of the Gnostics; of whom some believed that Christ was man only in appearance, and others that it was only Jesus, and not the Christ, (a pre-existent spirit who descended from heaven, and dwelt in him,) that suffered on the cross. Now the apostle John animadverts with the greatest severity upon the latter, but makes no mention of the former; and can it be thought probable that he would pass it without censure if he had thought it to be an error, considering how great and how dangerous an error it has always been thought by those who have considered it as being an error at all?+
2. The great objection that Jews have always made to Christianity in its present state is, that it enjoins the worship of more Gods than one; and it is a great article with the Christian writers of the second and following centuries, to answer this objection. But it does not appear in all the book of Acts, in which we hear much of the cavils of the Jews, both in Jerusalem and in many parts of the Roman empire, that they made any such objection to Christianity then; nor do the apostles, either there or in their Epistles, advance any thing with a view to such an objection. It may be presumed, therefore, that no such offence to the Jews had then been given by the preaching of a doctrine so offensive to them as that of the divinity of Christ must have been.‡
3. As no Jew had originally any idea of their Messiah being more than a man, and as the apostles and the first Christians had certainly the same idea at first concerning Jesus, it may be supposed that, if ever they had been informed that Jesus was not a man, but either God himself, or the maker of the world under God, we should have been able to trace the time and the circumstances in which so great a discovery was made to them; and also that we should have perceived the effect which it had upon their minds; at least by some change in their manner of speaking concerning him. But nothing of this kind is to be found in the Gospels, in the
* See this evidence stated more concisely, Vol. V. pp. 505-507. ↑ Maxim [infra No. II.] 12. (P.) See Vol. V. pp. 17, 18. Maxims 12, 13. (P.) See supra pp. 82, 83.
book of Acts, or in any of the Epistles. We perceive marks enow of other new views of things, especially of the call of the Gentiles to partake of the privileges of the gospel; and we hear much of the disputes and the eager contention which it occasioned; but how much more must all their prejudices have been shocked by the information that a person whom they first took to be a mere man, was not a man, but either God himself, or the maker of the world under God!*
4. All the Jewish Christians, after the destruction of Jerusalem, which was immediately after the age of the apostles, are said to have been Ebionites; and these were only of two sorts, some of them holding the miraculous conception of our Saviour, and others believing that he was the son of Joseph as well as of Mary. None of them are said to have believed either that he was God, or the maker of the world under God. And is it at all credible that the body of the Jewish Christians, if they had ever been instructed by the apostles in the doctrine of the divinity or pre-existence of Christ, would so soon, and so generally, if not universally, have abandoned that faith?t
5. Had Christ been considered as God, or the maker of the world under God, in the early ages of the Church, he would naturally have been the proper object of prayer to Christians; nay, more so than God the Father, with whom, on the scheme of the doctrine of the Trinity, they must have known that they had less immediate intercourse. But prayers to Jesus Christ were not used in early times, but gained ground gradually with the opinion of Christ being God, and the object of worship.
6. Athanasius represents the apostles as obliged to use great caution not to offend their first converts with the doctrine of Christ's divinity, and as forbearing to urge that topic till they were first well established in the belief of his being the Messiah. He adds, that the Jews, being in an error on this subject, drew the Gentiles into it. Chrysostom agrees with Athanasius in this representation of the silence of the apostles in their first preaching, both with respect to the divinity of Christ and his miraculous conception. They both represent them as leaving their disciples to learn the doctrine of Christ's divinity by way of inference from certain expressions; and they do not pretend to produce any instance in which they taught that doctrine clearly and explicitly. §
7. Hegesippus, the first Christian historian, himself a Jew, and therefore probably an Ebionite, enumerating the heresies of his time, mentions several of the Gnostic kind, but not that of Christ being a mere man. He moreover says, that in travelling to Rome, where he arrived in the time of Anicetus, he found all the churches that be visited held the faith which had been taught by Christ and the apostles, which, in his opinion, was probably that of Christ being not God, but man only. Justin Martyr also, and Clemens Alexan
* Maxim 13. (P.) See supra, pp. 80, 81.
+ Maxim 6. (P.)
See Vol. V. pp. 16, 17; supra, pp, 10, 11, 55.
drinus, who wrote after Hegesippus, treat largely of heresies in general, without mentioning or alluding to the Unitarians.*
8. All those who were deemed heretics in early times were cut off from the communion of those who called themselves the orthodox Christians, and went by some particular name, generally that of their leader. But the Unitarians among the Gentiles were not expelled from the assemblies of Christians, but worshipped along with those who were called orthodox, and had no particular name till the time of Victor, who excommunicated Theodotus; and a long time after that, Epiphanius endeavoured to give them the name of Alogi. And though the Ebionites, probably about or before this time, had been excommunicated by the Gentile Christians, it was, as Jerome says, only on account of their rigid adherence to the law of Moses.t
9. The Apostles' Creed is that which was taught to all catechumens before baptism, and additions were made to it from time to time, in order to exclude those who were denominated heretics. Now, though there are several articles in that creed which allude to the Gnostics, and tacitly condemn them, there was not, in the time of Tertullian, any article in it that alluded to the Unitarians; so that even then any Unitarian, at least one believing the miraculous conception, might have subscribed it. It may, therefore, be concluded, that simple Unitarianism was not deemed heretical at the end of the second century.‡
10. It is acknowledged by Eusebius and others, that the ancient Unitarians themselves constantly asserted that their doctrine was the prevailing opinion of the Christian Church till the time of Victor. §
11. Justin Martyr, who maintains the pre-existence of Christ, is so far from calling the contrary opinion a heresy, that what he says. on the subject is evidently an apology for his own: and when he speaks of heretics in general, which he does with great indignation, as no Christians, and having no communication with Christians, he mentions the Gnostics only. I
12. Irenæus, who was after Justin, and who wrote a large treatise on the subject of heresy, says very little concerning the Ebionites, and he never calls them heretics. Those Ebionites he speaks of as believing that Christ was the son of Joseph, and he makes no mention of those who believed the miraculous conception.¶
13. Tertullian represents the majority of the common or unlearned Christians, the idiotæ, as Unitarians; and it is among the common people that we always find the oldest opinions in any country, and in any sect, while the learned are most apt to innovate. It may therefore be presumed that, as the Unitarian doctrine was held by the common people in the time of Tertullian, it had been more general still before that time, and probably universal in the apostolical age. Athanasius also mentions it as a subject of complaint to
* Maxim 8. (P.)
† Maxim 5. (P.)
See Vol. V. p. 17; supra, pp. 12—15.
See Vol. V. pp. 22, 23; supra, pp. 21, 22.
the orthodox of his age, that the many, and especially persons of low understandings, were inclined to the Unitarian doctrine.*
14. The first who held and discussed the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, acknowledged that their opinions were exceedingly unpopular among the unlearned Christians; that these dreaded the doctrine of the Trinity, thinking that it infringed upon the doctrine of the supremacy of God the Father; and the learned Christians make frequent apologies to them and to others for their own opinion.t
15. The divinity of Christ was first advanced and urged by those who had been Heathen philosophers, and especially those who were admirers of the doctrine of Plato, who held the opinion of a second God. Austin says, that he considered Christ as no other than a most excellent man, and had no suspicion of the word of God being incarnate in him, or how " the Catholic faith differed from the error of Photinus," (the last of the proper Unitarians whose name is come down to us,) till he read the books of Plato; and that he was afterwards confirmed in the Catholic doctrine by reading the Scriptures. Constantine, in his oration to the fathers of the Council of Nice, speaks with commendation of Plato, as having taught the doctrine of" a second God, derived from the Supreme God, and subservient to his will."+
16. There is a pretty easy gradation in the progress of the doctrine of the divinity of Christ; as he was first thought to be a God in some qualified sense of the word, a distinguished emanation from the Supreme Mind; and then the Logos, or the wisdom of God personified; and this Logos was first thought to be only occasionally detached from the Deity, and then drawn into his essence again, before it was imagined that it had a permanent personality distinct from that of the source from which it sprung. And it was not till 400 years after that time that this Logos, or Christ, was thought to be properly equal to the Father. Whereas, on the other hand, it is now pretended that the apostles taught the doctrine of the divinity of Christ; yet it cannot be denied that in the very times of the apostles, the Jewish Church, and many of the Gentiles also, held the opinion of his being a mere man. Here the transition is quite sudden, without any gradation at all. This must naturally have given the greatest alarm, such as is now given to those who are called orthodox by the present Socinians; and yet nothing of this kind can be perceived.. Besides, it is certainly most probable that the Christians of those times, urged as they were with the meanness of their Master, should incline to add to, rather than take from, his natural rank and dignity. §
* Maxims 4, 10. (P.) See supra, pp. 23, 24, 76, 77.
+ Maxim 10. (P.) See Vol. V. p. 41.
+ Maxim 11. (P.) See Vol. V. pp. 17, 18.
§ Maxim 9. (P.) See Vol. V. p. 19; supra, pp. 90—92.
For whom South, in 1665, traced what he calls "their infamous pedigree: - first to Faustus Socinus and his uncle Lelius, and from them to Gentilis, and then to Servetus, and so through a long interval to Mahomet and his sect, and from them to Photinus, and from him to Arius, and from Arius to Paulus Samosatenus, and from him to Ebion and Cerinthus, and from them to Simon Magus, and so in a direct line to the Devil himself." Sermons, III. p. 294.
MAXIMS OF HISTORICAL CRITICISM, BY WHICH THE PRECEDING ARTICLES MAY BE TRIED.
(See supra, p. 46.)
THOUGH the maxims of historical criticism are things that are well understood by all persons who attend to them, (and indeed, as they are the ultimate principles of all reasoning on these subjects, it would otherwise be in vain to appeal to them at all,) it may not be unuseful to enumerate them, and to illustrate such of them as may seem to require it. Things of a similar nature have been done. by all mathematicians and critics. By the former, these ultimate propositions are called axioms, and by the latter, canons of criticism; and as I wish to reduce the species of criticism with which I and my opponents are now conversant to the greatest certainty, I have followed their example. I have, however, made no general system, but have only noted such particulars as I myself have had occasion for; and even this I am far from pretending to have executed with perfect accuracy: but I give it as a sketch to be examined at leisure, and to be rectified where it shall appear to be requisite.
These maxims are adapted to the preceding Summary View of those arguments which, I apprehend, establish my principal position, viz. that the Christian church was originally Unitarian; and therefore I have annexed to each of them the number of that article in the Summary View to which they correspond, that they may be compared together. I wish that Dr. Horsley and other Trinitarians would, in like manner, reduce into axioms the principles on which they proceed, that they may be compared with mine; and perhaps we may by this means be assisted in coming to a proper issue in this controversy. If my opponents will devise any other method that shall appear to be better adapted to gain the same desirable end, I shall heartily concur in it, and conform to it.
1. When two persons give different accounts of things, that evidence is to be preferred which is either in itself more probable, or more agreeable to other credible testimony.
2. Neither is entire credit to be given to any set of men with respect to what is reputable to them, nor to their enemies with respect to what is disreputable; but the account given by the one may be balanced by that of the other.*
3. Accounts of any set of men given by their enemies only, are always suspicious. But the confessions of enemies, and circumstances favourable to any body of men, collected from the writings of their adversaries, are deserving of particular regard.
4. It is more natural for men who wish to speak disparagingly of any sect, to undervalue their numbers, as well as every thing else relating to them; and it is equally natural for those who wish to speak respectfully of any party, to represent the members of it as more numerous than they are. †