« EdellinenJatka »
itself: the latter conceiving this union to take place at the incarnation; the Gnostics and other sects not until the baptism of Jesus."* "The Gnostics, Nazarenes, Ebionites, Theodotians, and all their followers down to Photinus, had no conception of ever extending the mere humanity of Jesus to any later period than his baptism; and the same principle pervaded them all, viz. that of ennobling, not abasing the dignity of the Christ."+
But is it at all credible, that so small a difference as that of admitting the divinity of Christ to have taken place a few years sooner or later, could possibly have caused all that animosity which the orthodox expressed towards the Gnostics and ancient Unitarians? Such assertions as these deserve no serious reply.
We are promised more evidence of this curious assertion, "in the fourth volume of Critical Observations on Books ancient and modern, sold by B. White, Fleet-street." But in the mean time, Mr. Howes has favoured us with a specimen of his evidence, in some extracts from Epiphanius, who most ridiculously ascribes the opinions of the Gnostics to some of the later Ebionites, and who also represents them as worshipping water as a God. Mr. Howes also attributes the extracts from Theodotus in Clemens Alexandrinus to Theodotus the Tanner. I need not tell any scholar how contrary this notion is to all probability, or how destitute it is of the least shadow of evidence in antiquity. Sylburgius and Potter, the truly learned editors of Clemens Alexandrinus, were far from being of his opinion.
Mr. Howes is pleased to represent me as one of those who, "having been beaten out of all their pretences for absolute unbelief, concerning the origin, nature, and utility of the Christian revelation, seem now desirous-to adopt a kind of compromise with Christianity. For they now affect to style themselves rational Christians, and philosophers; that is, they pretend to retain some parts of the Christian revelation, such as they judge most proper, but to reject other parts of it." This he ascribes to a want "either of a pure intention of the heart to search out truth in their speculations, or else of a conscientious adherence to the reality of facts, and to the right sense of words to which they refer; or else of a clear conviction of their own understanding, concerning the origin and progress of Christianity, the nature of its speculative doctrine, or its practical tendency, to promote the end of the revealed commandment."§
As to Mr. Howes's insinuation that I only pretend to believe Christianity, I think I may safely leave it to the judgment of any
Discourse, p. 15. (P.)
Ibid. p. 15, Note. (P.)
↑ Ibid. pp. 21, 22. (P.)
§ Ibid. p. 6. (P.) Mr. Howes complains, not very reasonably, of this quotation as having misrepresented him. Those "beaten out of all their pretences," &c. he had described as having appeared" in the beginning of the century;" these, he says, were "adversaries of Christianity-to whom are opposed the compromisers with Christianity at the close of the century." Of these, Dr. Priestley is represented as the chief; yet Mr. Howes attempts to evade the justice of his opponent's strictures, because he had allowed these compromisers "to have formed a new sect, and this expressly a Christian one." See Crit. Obs. No. XI. 1800, pp. ii. iii.
impartial person, whether it be more probable that the profession of Christianity by a Dissenter, or by a beneficed clergyman in this country, is mere pretence. And yet I do not suspect Mr. Howes's sincerity, as he does mine. If he be capable of blushing, he must, on reflection, be ashamed of these insinuations, which he has expressed in a great variety of phrases towards the close of his discourse. What Mr. Howes meant by classing me with Mr. Gibbon,* is also best known to himself. I hope it arose from the same ignorance which led him to class the Gnostics with the Unitarians. However, though equal mention is made of Mr. Gibbon and myself in the title page of the Discourse, there is no mention made of Mr. Gibbon, or any reference to him, in the body of it. Are we to infer from this, that a mistaken Christian is a character more obnoxious to a high churchman than a known unbeliever?
REMARKS ON A PAMPHLET ENTITLED "PRIMITIVE CANDOUR; Or, the Moderation of the earlier Fathers towards the Unitarians, the necessary Consequence of the Circumstances of the Times; being an Attempt to estimate the Weight of their Testimony in behalf of the proper Divinity of Christ."†
(See supra, p. 541, Note †.)
SINCE the preceding Sermon, with the Reflections, [No. XI.,] &c., subjoined to it were sent to the press, I have seen a pamphlet entitled Primitive Candour, &c., and I take this opportunity of acknowledging the pleasure I have received from the perusal of it, as it gives me a prospect of what I have long and earnestly wished for, viz. that of having a learned and candid antagonist, with whom to discuss the merits of the important question that is now before the public, relating to the doctrine of the primitive church concerning the person of Christ. Two volumes, out of four, of my larger work, on this subject, are now printed, and the whole will, I hope, be ready for publication in a few months; and I hereby inform the anonymous author of this pamphlet, that I shall think myself happy if, when he has read it with care, he will give me, and the public, his real opinion of it, and the reasons on which it is founded.
* On a similar compliment by Dr. Horsley, see supra, p. 260.
Published 1785, anonymously; but justly attributed to Dr. Benjamin Davies, Theological Tutor at Homerton College. Dr. Davies, who died at Bath in 1819, aged about 80, continued through life a zealous Trinitarian. Residing at Reading in 1812, when the late Mr. Vidler first preached Unitarianism there, Dr. Davies, to oppose "the sect every where spoken against," preached and published a Sermon, entitled "The Deity of the Saviour, the Riches of Christianity," a composition not quite worthy of the Author of Primitive Candour.
It is related, I believe correctly, in a "Memoir of Dr. Davies," that "Dr. Priestley was so pleased with the temper manifested in his production, that he sought and obtained an interview with him, and owned that Dr. Davies was the only one of his opponents who had treated him as a Christian." Evangelical Magazine, 1819, XXVII. p. 226. This was in 1785, before Dr. Price or Dr. Geddes had written.
Had this writer personally known me, or indeed many of my acquaintance, he would not, I am persuaded, have charged me, as he does, with relying on my "strength of genius to explore all the regions of moral, spiritual, and divine truth."* Where this advantage is possessed in the highest degree, it is of very little avail in a public controversy, carried on in writing; and, therefore, though not possessed of it myself, I see nothing in it of which I ever stand in awe. The confidence I sometimes express arises solely from a full persuasion of the goodness of the cause in which I engage; and this has always been the slow growth of patient inquiry, of much labour and close thinking. Still, however, I am never fully satisfied of the truth of any opinion that I adopt, in religion or philosophy, till it has undergone as fair a scrutiny as I can procure, by means of a public discussion; and to promote this I would spare nothing to encourage the timid or to provoke the bold. I think I see in my present antagonist more of the qualities that are requisite for this purpose than I have yet found in any other, a real love of truth, accompanied with competent ability, learning and candour.
I would not anticipate much of what I shall advance, with its proper authorities, in my larger work; but I would observe, that this writer has chosen his ground much better than any of my former opponents, though I have little doubt of being able to convince even himself that it is untenable. He, in direct opposition to Mr. Howes, acknowledges that the Unitarians were numerous in the primitive church; † but he thinks that, because their tenets were not very obnoxious, when compared with those of the Gnostics, all the indignation of the apostles and primitive Christians fell upon the latter. He also treats me as a Christian, and an honest man; and if he choose to enter into this discussion, I hope he will see no reason to think more unfavourably of me than he does at present.
He makes an apology for dwelling so long as he does upon the tenets of the Gnostics, but they certainly deserve a close examination. I have employed a great part of my first volume on this subject, and am confident that a due attention to their tenets is much more favourable to my argument than to his.
I shall here observe, with respect to this subject, that he will hardly find, in the times of the apostles, any trace of that tenet of the Gnostics, for which he justly thinks they were afterwards the most obnoxious, viz. their ascribing the making of the world to any other than the Supreme God. It is evident that it was their doctrine concerning the person of Christ, that of his not having real flesh and blood, that gave the chief offence to the apostle John. But what could this be, compared to the opinion of his being a mere man, if John himself thought him to be the Supreme God? Is it at all probable that persons whose opinions were so diametrically opposite should join their forces, as this writer supposes, to combat what was, comparatively speaking, a mere shadow? It is much more probable that the Trinitarians and Unitarians of the present day should forget their differences, and jointly attack the Arians, whose sentiments concerning the person of Christ more nearly † Ibid. p. 10.
• Prim. Cand. p. 52. (P.)
resemble those of the Gnostics, than any others that are now professed.
Besides, I must observe, that the desire of this writer to throw an odium upon the tenets of the Gnostics (thereby to make them appear more obnoxious than those of the Unitarians) has unwarily misled him into an actual misrepresentation of them. The Gnostics acknowledged one supreme God, as well as the orthodox, and they ascribed to him the same perfections. They only thought that the material world, on account of the mixture of evil in it, was unworthy of being his workmanship. They believed in the divine mission of Christ, the immortality of the soul, and a life of retribution after death. They also agreed with the orthodox, and differed from the Unitarians, in supposing that Christ was a being who had a much higher origin than from the earth. They asserted that he came down from heaven, where he had enjoyed rank and power superior to those of the Creator of the world. Christians so nearly agreed in these, as well as other points, might very well (as in fact they did) equally endeavour to overbear the poor Unitarians, who thought that Christ was nothing more than a mere man, though a prophet; who had no being before he was born in this world, and who had no rank afterwards, but what was given him as the reward of his obedience here.
I am as ready as this author himself can be to acknowledge that Justin Martyr, Irenæus, and all the writers he mentions, were Trinitarians, (though not Athanasians,) and also that they did not scruple to assert that their own faith was that of the universal church. But what I undertake to prove, and even from their own writings, is, that this assertion is not true. I shall shew that their opinions were derived from the Platonic philosophy, while the common people, who had no philosophical instruction, as well as many truly learned men who despised it, were simply Unitarians. I profess to make it as evident that the doctrine of the Trinity was derived from Platonism, as that the acorn comes from the oak.
Admitting, as I do, that Irenæus and the other Christian fathers were Trinitarians, I cannot expect that they should have combated the Gnostic doctrines on the principle of Christ being a mere man, which this writer unreasonably demands. This was not their own opinion; but I shall shew that there were Christians who combated the Gnostics on Unitarian principles, though the generality of Christian writers did not.
The very creed which this author gives us from Irenæus, as opposed to the tenets of the Gnostics, goes upon other principles than those of Irenæus himself, and the other writers he mentions. creed was, in its essential articles, of primitive and Unitarian antiquity; for it asserts that it was the "one God, the Father Almighty, that made the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and all that are in them;"* whereas, these writers thought that it was not the Father, properly speaking, but the Son that made them. The established language of this creed these fathers were not at liberty to alter; and it was very awkwardly that they accommodated it to their new
Prim. Cand. p. 28.
notions. This author himself writes as if he had forgotten this article of his orthodox creed; for, through the whole of his pamphlet, he ascribes the making of the world not to Christ, but to the Father. This is so much the voice of nature, and of the Scriptures, that I do not wonder that those who do not write professedly on the subject, should forget their peculiar system.
This writer says, "I would modestly and respectfully ask, what can be the reason that Dr. Priestley should put the issue of this important controversy on the testimony of the fathers, rather than on that of the inspired writers of the New Testament?"+ If he will look into my other writings, he will find that I consider the great strong-hold of the Unitarians to be the Scriptures. It was the study of the Scriptures that made me an Unitarian; and I have said it must be that which will make others so. I would take the liberty to refer him to my "Appeal to the Professors of Christianity," + the "Familiar Illustration of certain Passages of Scripture,"§ the "General View of Arguments," &c. and the Introduction to my large History, which I hope will soon be in his hands.
However, (if I may be indulged in a little allegory,) thinking myself in full possession of this strong-hold of my faith, I thought I could also seize upon a certain out-work, of some importance, in which the enemy had hitherto thought himself securely lodged. Accordingly I made a sally, and dislodged him. Attempts have been made to dispossess me of it, but hitherto they have been ineffectual. I am now strengthening the fortifications belonging to it; and here I am determined to stand a close and regular siege, conducted, I hope, by my present able opponent; ** and, if I be compelled to surrender, I hope to acquit myself in such a manner, as to be entitled to leave it with all the honours of war. Still, however, I shall have my strong-hold to retire into.
I am not a little surprised that this learned and ingenious writer should need to be informed that, to ascertain the opinion of the Christian world in the age immediately following that of the apostles, cannot but be of great use in order to ascertain the opinion of the apostles themselves, and, consequently, the true sense of their writings. There may be many causes which, at this distance of time, may mislead us in our interpretation of their writings; but they must have been understood by those for whose use they were written, and who could have had recourse to the writers themselves to explain their meaning, if it had been doubtful.
"May I not be allowed," says he, "to lay it down as the primary observation, that all Christians, the Gnostics excepted, by God the Father, who, in the New Testament, is made known as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, uniformly meant the God who made the world, who in every age governed it by his providence, and who condescended to be called the God of Israel? The most ancient formulary of Christian doctrine, which is called the Apostles' Creed, most expressly acknowledges this in the first article of it: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.' And the authority of the Scriptures of the Old Testament in the Christian church caunot, on any other principle, be established." Prim. Cand. pp. 35, 36.
+ Ibid. p. 47.
§ Ibid. pp. 430–480. ¶ Vol. VI. pp. 13–52.
** Who, however, engaged no further in the controversy.