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IRISH UNITARIAN MAGAZINE.
HISTORY OF THE TRINITY.
On Monday, the morrow of St. Michael, Mistress Bouchier, her sister Emma, Master Brandon, and Sir Francis Farel, conversed together on religious subjects, in Mistress Bouchier's library.
In answer to a question from Sir Francis, Mistress Jane replied, “ The Christian ministers of the first four centuries, and especially the fathers, were nearly all of them Platonists in philosophy, like all the educated people of those times, both heathen and believers, from Egypt to Rome, and Rome to Britain; and they found Athenian Plato's trinity in the Bible, just as now the Papists fondly fancy there traces of purgatorial belief, image-worship, Papal authority, and works of supererogation.
“ St. Augustine once held the doctrine, that God was One Persona faith, at that time, the general belief; and, in his mind, it was by Platonic philosophy that this doctrine of the Scriptures was modified. Augustine says this in a thanksgiving to God, Thou didst put into my hands, by means of a certain pompous philosopher, some of Plato's books, translated out of Greek into Latin ; and therein I read, not indeed in so many words, but by many and various arguments I was convinced ;' and then the saint proceeds with Plato's notion of the divine nature-a modified Trinity: for even St. Augustine was not orthodox."
“ It is a common error, that of Austin's,” said Master Francis, “to read the Bible with a heathen lamp, instead of exalting the Scriptures to be themselves the world's light."
“St. Augustine lived in the latter part of the fourth century ; his testimony is, therefore, particularly curious, as shewing that, even after Athanasius was dead, the Trinitarians relied on Plato, for their doctrine, more than on the Bible. Other earlier writers make many similar confessions."
“ Sister,” Mistress Emma asked, “ did not St. Athanasius die before the completion of the Trinity?"
“Assuredly. Athanasius was no Trinitarian-he was scarcely even a dualist; for he held that the Father was God in a higher manner than the Son. Athanasius himself may be accounted an Arian; for, notwithstanding his outrageous persecution of Arius, there was less
difference between him and his opponent, than there was a hundred years afterwards between him and his followers. The creed called By his name is a forgery. Highly orthodox as he was for the fourth century, yet, if he were bishop of Alexandria now, his opinion on the Trinity would bar his translation to the see of Canterbury. But the multitude were less Trinitarian than himself, for he complains bitterly, and on the subject of the godhead, that the mass of the believers were infested with blasphemies."
“Oh!” cried Sir Francis. “ As it was in the beginning, and is now; how prone priests are to calumny! But the laity are learning
that what is ecclesiastically blasphemous is often religiously true. All accusations must be accepted—with an allowance for the breath that is in them; and a parson’s is seldom the softest. A serious charge of blasphemy against the Church, made by Athanasius, may be interpreted to his own prejudice as an innovator.'
“ From these and other remarks of his,” said Mistress Jane, “it is manifest that the vast majority of Christians, about the year 360, differed very widely in opinion from Athanasius, although even he would not now be reckoned sufficiently orthodox. About the year 250, Origen doth write, 'that, although there were some who participated in his opinion, as to the Logos being God and Christ, yet, that the majority knew nothing but Christ, and him crucified. Such is the multitude of those who are reputed believers.”
Then Master Brandon said, “Cousin, I thank you. They are the chief ecclesiastical writers, are they not, those which we have now been examining ?”
“ Yes, in the history of the Christian church, they are the highest authorities. The Papists aver, and truly, that there are no traces of the Trinity in the whole Bible, for they hold that it is a doctrine of tradition. Athanasius and other fathers assert, that the Apostles concealed the doctrine of the Trinity for prudential reasons, and that St. John, in his old age, was the only Apostle who preached it. The councils of bishops, which were held from time to time, to debate upon the Trinity, and to settle the limits of the doctrine, were evident proofs of its recency. There were other episcopal councils held on matters, the uncertainty and debating of which are palpable proofs of a general change of doctrine in the Christian church. Councils were held to determine, whether, if Christ were two natures in one person, he had more than one will ; whether or not the Godhead descended into hell with the human soul; whether Mary was entitled to be called the Mother of God; whether, besides the second person of the Trinity, Christ must not have had a body also, a soul, and a spirit ; and whether or not one of the Trinity was crucified.
Then there were endless controversies, as wide, or wider in extent, than the Roman
empire, crowded councils of bishops from every country in Christendom, furious persecutions, in which hundreds and thousands of persons perished, interminable intrigues among the clergy, disgraceful alliances with Prefects and Emperors, and all as to what should be the understood meaning of such words as person, substance, essence, hypostasis, generation, nature, proceeding, homoousion, and homoiousion. The Trinitarian innovators not only killed the persons, and calumniated the memories, of the defenders of the primitive truth, but they made it criminal to possess their writings; hence, multitudinous as they were, and pious also, and learned and ingenious, as confessedly they were, yet not a copy of one Arian production has been preserved. Then a historian of the time writes, that, at one of the most important councils held to enact Trinitarian doctrines, out of the many hundred bishops present thereat, not more than about twenty were acquainted with the Hebrew language; and, consequently, were not judges of the idiom even of the New Testament. During the rise of Trinitarianism in the church, excommunications were commoner than honesty. Among Quintianus' anathemas, I recollected this one, “If any say God-man, and not God and mau, let him be damned.'
“A self-damnatory condemnation,” Sir Francis said ; “Oh, how I do wish that Herr Campanus had survived !”
“It was in Wittemberg, was it not, that John Campanus so boldly discarded the Trinity ?"
“ Yes, in the same town, and the same year nearly, in which Martin Luther abolished Popery. Had he lived, he would have carried on the Reformation more thoroughly than Dr. Luther. The banishment in which he died was Luther's procuring. But, after the death of Campanus, Luther said himself, The word Trinity sounds oddly, and is a human invention ; it were better to call Almighty God God than Trinity. Had Herr Campanus lived, perhaps Dr. Luther would have permitted his return to Wittemberg; but Dr. Luther was always sedulous to stifle controversy in the Reformed Church, being anxious to prevent Protestantism from appearing a dangerous license. Philip Melancthon is also understood to deprecate very strongly the discussion of the Trinity."
Mistress Jane answered, “ Such a scholar's fears on such a subject are strong presumptions against its truth. I have been advised from Geneva, that Dr. John Calvin hath said that he likes not the prayer, 'Oh, holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity!' as savouring of barbarity ; also that he doth acknowledge that the word Trinity is barbarous, insipid, profane, a human invention, grounded on no testimony of God's word—the Popish God, unknown to the prophets and apostles.”
“ And,” said Sir Francis, “Dr. Erasmus, no long while before his death, wrote to my old friend Pirkheimer that he could himself be of the Arian persuasion, if the Church approved it.”
“I have most of Erasmus's works here,” Mistress Jane replied, and she reached a volume from the shelf, and said, “In the note of Ephesians, chap. v. ver. 5, Erasmus saith, that the word of God, used absolutely, doth denote the Father always; and concerning Philippians, chap. ii. ver. 6, he observes, that it proves nothing against the Arians, although relied upon by the fathers as the chief opposing text. And in commenting upon St. Jerome, Dr. Erasmus doth emphatically deny that the Arians are heretics."
Sir Francis answered, “For more than a thousand years the church has had no believer so competent as Erasmus to pronounce on church doctrine and history; if, indeed, there ever has been such another as he, since the days of the apostles. Theology is a matter in which, to my mind, Dr. Erasmus's opinion doth infinitely outweigh Papal infallibility, and all other church authority. But, indeed, the history of the Trinity is the confutation of the doctrine. Last week I conversed, concerning the Trinity, with a city merchant, and it was marvellous how he was horrified by my avowal, that God was one person and undivided, the Father. There was something divine in the word Trinity, he said, before which he involuntarily trembled. He was strangely troubled, on my reminding him that the word was unscriptural, and as much a human invention, as the word purgatory or penance. I reminded him, also, that he had not only trembled at the doctrine, but formerly at the image of the Trinity, in the church of St. Olave's; in the same manner as before the statues of the saints, which had yet been abolished, together with the saints themselves. He relied, he said, on the three first general councils for his faith. I would that I had known their history ; nevertheless, I did ask him whether himself he knew the worth of those councils, or whether he was relying on Dr. Cranmer's opinion concerning them, which latter, I said, was identical with selecting Dr. Cranmer for his private pope."
Mistress Jane replied, “ The detection of doctrinal error is mainly useful, as emancipating the mind from thraldom. Did the Apostles ' Creed contain the same damnatory clause as the Athanasian, the one might be truer than the other, but it would not be exempt from a hurtful influence. Truth is itself prejudice, when held in a slavish spirit. It would be no spiritual gain to transfer implicit belief from St. Athanasius to Arius, his opponent. When a golden idol has been broken in our sight, by the help of great courage and strength, the inference should be the abolition of idolatry, and not that some rival statue is preferable, made of silver, or perhaps only painted wood."
" It is strange inconsistency,” said Master Brandon, "in the King's Council, and in the Bishops, to repudiate Papal authority in doctrines, and yet themselves to assume it. The Roman Church maintain that God doth inspire with infallibility all General Councils and Papal bulls; so that the Papists are consistent in extorting obediedce. But our churchmen deny the existence of such authority, and yet themselves presume upon it.”
A COMPULSORY CONFESSION OF FAITH AND A VOLUNTARY
DECLARATION OF BELIEF CONTRASTED.
BY ATHANASE COQUEREL, PASTOR OF THE REFORMED CHURCH OF PARIS.
A CONFESSION OF Faith which ministers, elders, deacons, and communicants must sign, before entering on their official duties, or becoming members of a Christian church, is a source of division.
A Voluntary Declaration of Belief, which is made without the surrender of Christian liberty, which requires no imprudent signature, and demands no rash oath, is a means of peace.
A Compulsory Confession of Faith is a chain, the breaking of which requires violence, and produces scandal.
A voluntary declaration of belief is a bond of Christian brotherhood which can be unloosed without force, and abandoned without the sacrifice of kind feeling, or the excitement of evil passions.
A compulsory confession of faith is a pledge, that, from the moment the believer unites with the church, or assumes the functions of a Christian Minister, until the close of life, he will think the same upon all the solemn and important truths of religion: that is in anticipation of the future.
A voluntary declaration of belief is an humble recognition of the ability of Providence to vouchsafe more light, and grace, and means of edification, and effusion of his Holy Spirit; this leaves the future in the hands of God.
A compulsory confession of faith dispenses with, and proscribes, inquiry.
A voluntary declaration of belief implies investigation, and demands its fullest aid.
A compulsory confession of faith presupposes and perpetuates a tyranny over conscience.
A voluntary declaration of belief guarantees mental freedom.
A compulsory confession of faith attempts to secure unity, by excluding from the church and the ministry whoever rejects any doctrine which it imposes ; thereby it creates dissent.
A voluntary declaration of belief secures unity, by excluding none who do not exclude themselves; it is thus a rallying point for all.