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When I consider these circumstances, and also how apt all persons are to make their own party more numerous than it really is, I am inclined to think that, even if the passage might bear such a construction as that Justin meant to insinuate that the majority were with him, yet that it would not be the most natural construction, or a sufficient authority to conclude that such was the fact. I therefore think that, upon the whole, the passage has all the appearance of an apology (which is all that I have asserted) for an opinion different from that which, in his time, was commonly received on the subject.
I am, no doubt, influenced in my construction of this particular passage, by the persuasion that I have, from other independent evidence, that the Unitarians were, in fact, the majority of Christians in the time of Justin; that he, therefore, knew this to be the case, and could not mean to insinuate the contrary. Another person, having a different persuasion concerning the state of opinions in that age, will naturally be inclined to put a different construction upon this passage. In this case, I only wish that he would suspend his judgment till he has attended to my other arguments, and afterwards he may perhaps see this passage in the same light in which I do.
The word yεvos, I think with my learned friend, refers to natural descent; and I therefore conclude, that Justin here meant not Christians in general, but Gentile Christians in particular; because, as he is opposing the opinion concerning Christ, which made him to be a man born of men, not to the doctrine of the miraculous conception, but only to his pre-existence, the only idea that he had in his mind, and to which he attended, was that of his simple humanity; and we have positive evidence that this was the doctrine of all the Jewish Christians, so that he could not speak of some of them holding it, and others not. Whereas, the Gentile Christians were divided on that subject; and some of them, even later than this, viz. in the time of Origen, held that, in the strictest sense of the expression, Jesus was a man born of man, being the son of Joseph, as well as of Mary. I therefore think that Justin meant the Gentile Christians; omitting the Jewish Christians, whose sentiments he might suppose to have been well known to the learned Jew with whom he was conversing.
Tillemont somewhere says, that the majority of the Ebionites seem to have believed that Christ was the son of Joseph; and as I find no mention of two sorts of Ebionites (one of them believing the miraculous conception, and the other not) before the time of Origen, it is probable that in the time of Justin, the Jewish Christians were almost wholly Ebionites, of the oldest denomination, believing Christ to be man born of man, in the strictest sense of the phrase; and, therefore, that, in this respect also, there could have been no pretence for any insinuation that the Jewish Christians were divided on this point; and still less, that those among them who believed Jesus to be a man born of man, were not a very great majority of them.
It is plain from the existence of such Christians, both among Jews and Gentiles in the time of Origen, and probably much later, which
was long after the publication of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, even in their present form, (admitting that there might be some doubt relating to the introductions to them when they were first published,) that they considered these evangelists simply as historians, and by no means as inspired writers; so that they thought themselves at liberty to admit or disregard their testimony to particular facts, according to their opinion of their evidence being competent or not competent in those particular cases. I have frequently avowed myself not to be a believer in the inspiration of the evangelists and apostles as writers, and have given my reasons pretty much at large for my opinion. I therefore, with these ancient Unitarians, hold this subject of the miraculous conception to be one with respect to which any person is fully at liberty to think as the evidence shall appear to him, without any impeachment of his faith or character as a Christian.
I shall conclude this article with observing that, without attending to minute criticisms, it is quite sufficient for my purpose, that these ancient Unitarian Christians, whether they held the miraculous conception or not, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, or whether Justin meant to represent them as (strictly speaking) the majority of Christians, or otherwise, were not treated by him as heretics. From this circumstance alone it may be concluded, that they were very numerous; because, whenever Unitarians have not been very numerous, and made a respectable figure among Christians, they have always been considered with great abhorrence, and have been cut off from communion with those of the orthodox per
With what rancour does Eusebius treat this class of Christians, both in his History and in his Treatise against Marcellus of Ancyra! when we know from Athanasius, and other authorities, that they were at that time very numerous, (though among the lower classes of people,) and probably in all parts of the Christian world.
When these things are duly considered, it can hardly be imagined but that, let this passage in Justin be construed in any manner that the words can possibly bear, it will be sufficiently to my purpose, and authorize all the use that I have made of it. But I can very well spare the passage altogether; thinking that I have evidence enough of my general position without it. After all the attention. which I have given to this subject, I see no material objection to the manner in which I have expressed myself concerning it in my History. If, however, there should be a demand for a new edition of that work, I shall endeavour to make it as little exceptionable as possible, consistent with my own real opinion.
OF THE EXCOMMUNICATION OF THEODOTUS BY VICTOR.
IT may be objected to the evidence of Tertullian, concerning the major part of Christians being Unitarians that about the same time
Victor, bishop of Rome, excommunicated Theodotus, of Byzantium, for denying the divinity of Christ, which it may be thought he would not have ventured to do, if the popular prejudices had not been with him in this business. I do not think, however, that there is any contrariety betwen these two facts, when the circumstances attending them are duly considered.
Tertullian lived in Africa, where there seems to have been a greater inclination for the Unitarian doctrine than there was at Rome, as we may collect from the remarkable popularity of Sabellius in that country, and other circumstances. Athanasius also, who complains of many persons of low understanding favouring the same principles, was of the same country, residing chiefly in Egypt, though he had seen a great part of the Christian world, and was, no doubt, well acquainted with it.*
We should likewise consider the peculiarly violent character of Victor, who was capable of doing what few other persons would have attempted; being the same person who excommunicated all the Eastern churches, because they did not observe Easter at the same time that the Western churches did; for which he was much censured even by many bishops in the West.
Such an excommunication as this of Theodotus, was by no means the same thing with cutting a person off from communion with any particular church with which he had been used to communicate. Theodotus was a stranger at Rome, and it is very possible that the body of the Christian church at Rome did not interest themselves in the affair, the bishop and his clergy only approving of it; for I readily grant that, though there were some learned Unitarians in all the early ages of Christianity, the majority of the clergy were
Theodotus, besides being a stranger at Rome, was a man of science, and is said by the Unitarians to have been well received by Victor, at first; so that it is very possible that the latter might have been instigated to what he did by some quarrel between them, of which we have no account.
Upon the whole, therefore, though Victor excommunicated this Theodotus, who was a stranger, and had perhaps made himself conspicuous, so as to have given some cause of umbrage or jealousy to him, it is very possible that a great proportion of the lower kind of people, who made no noise or disturbance, might continue in communion with that church, though they were known to be Unitarians.
I think it very probable, that in the Western parts of the Roman empire in general, there were always fewer Unitarians than in the Eastern parts; because the gospel was not preached so early in the Western parts, perhaps not to any great extent till the greater part of the clergy were infected with Platonism. This might have been the case, especially in so remote a country as Gaul, where Irenæus resided, and may account for his treating the doctrine of the Ebionites with more severity than Justin, who lived in the East, where they were more numerous. On the same principles, we may account for the prevalence of Arianism, in all the barbarous nations bordering on the Roman empire. They had been converted to Christianity chiefly by persecuted Arians. But Arianism was at length suppressed by the influence of the Church of Rome, which also began to excommunicate the proper Unitarians in the person of Theodotus. (P.)
I am not disposed to take any advantage of Dr. Horsley's supposition, that Theodotus might hold the Unitarian doctrine in some more offensive form than that of the ancient Ebionites, and, therefore, might be more liable to excommunication; because both Tertullian and Theodoret say, that he believed the miraculous conception, and it is only Epiphanius (who lived long after the time of Tertullian) who asserts the contrary. It is, indeed, pretty certain, that the opinion of Jesus being the son of Joseph, began soon to give way to the authority of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and that it became extinct long before the doctrine of the simple humanity of Christ.
OF JUSTIN MARTYR's ACCOUNT OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF SOME CHRISTIANS OF LOW RANK.
(See supra, p. 108.)
Ir is likewise said that the testimony of Tertullian is expressly contradicted by Justin Martyr,† who, in giving an account of the circumstances in which the Platonic philosophy agreed, as he thought, with the doctrine of Moses, but with respect to which he supposed that Plato had borrowed from Moses, mentions the following particulars: viz. "The power which was after the first God, or the Logos," assuming the figure of a cross in the universe, borrowed from the fixing up of a serpent (which represented Christ) in the form of a cross in the wilderness; and a third principle, borrowed from the spirit which Moses said moved on the face of the water at the creation; and also the notion of some fire or conflagration, borrowed from some figurative expressions in Moses relating to the anger of God waxing hot. "These things," he says, "These things," he says, "we do not borrow from others, but all others from us. With us you may hear and learn these things from those who do not know the form of the letters, who are rude and barbarous of speech, but wise and understanding in mind; and from some who are even lame and blind; so that you may be convinced that these things are not said by human wisdom, but by the power of God."
But all that we can infer from this passage is, that these common people had learned from Moses that the world was made by the power and wisdom (or the logos) of God; that the serpent in the wilderness represented Christ; and that there was a spirit of God that moved on the face of the waters; in short, that these plain people had been at the source from which Plato had borrowed his philosophy. It is by no means an explicit declaration that these common people thought that the Logos and the Spirit were persons distinct from God. Justin was not writing with a view to that question, as Tertullian was; but only meant to say how much more knowledge was to be found among the lowest of the Christians than among the wisest of the Heathen philosophers.
Besides, Justin is here boasting of the knowledge of these lower
* Tillemont's Memoirs, VII. p. 116. (P.) ↑ Edit. Thirlby, p. 88. (P.)
people, and it favoured his purpose to make it as considerable as he could; whereas Tertullian is complaining of the circumstance which he mentions; so that nothing but the conviction of a disagreeable truth could have extorted it from him. The same was the case with respect to Athanasius.
That the common people in Justin's time should understand his doctrine concerning the personification of the Logos, is in itself highly improbable. That this Logos, which was originally in God the same thing that reason is in man, should at the creation of the world assume a proper personality, and afterwards animate the body of Jesus Christ, either in addition to a human soul, or instead of it, is not only very absurd, but also so very abstruse, that it is in the highest degree improbable, à priori, that the common people should have adopted it. The Scriptures, in which they were chiefly conversant, could never teach them any such thing, and they could not have been capable of entering into the philosophical refinements of Justin on the subject. Whereas, that the common people should have believed, as Tertullian and Athanasius represent them to have done, viz. that there is but one God; and that Christ was a man, the messenger or prophet of God, and no second God at all, the rival as it were of the first God, is a thing highly credible in itself, and therefore requires less external evidence.
A GENERÁL VIEW
Arguments for the Unity of God, and against the Divinity and Pre-existence of Christ; from Reason and from the Scriptures.*
(See supra, p. 151.)
I. ARGUMENTS FROM REASON AGAINST THE TRINITARIAN
THAT the doctrine of the Trinity could ever have been suggested by any thing in the course of nature, (though it has been imagined by some persons of a peculiarly fanciful turn, and previously persuaded of the truth of it,) is not maintained by any persons to whom my writings can be at all useful. I shall therefore only address myself to those who believe the doctrine on the supposition of its being contained in the Scriptures, at the same time maintaining, that though it is above, it is not properly contrary to reason; and I hope to make it sufficiently evident, either that they do not hold the doctrine, or that the opinion of three divine persons constituting one God is, strictly speaking, an absurdity or contradiction; and that it With this is therefore incapable of any proof, even by miracles. view, I shall recite, in order, all the distinct modifications of this doctrine, and shew that, upon any of them, there is either no proper Unity in the Divine nature, or no proper Trinity.
* The arguments from History form No. I. and No. II. of this Appendix.