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latter supposition is manifestly absurd. All corruptions, as observed above, must be gradual and progressive: and if the apostles preached, and the early Christians believed, as the Unitarians tell us, that Jesus Christ was a mere man, the notion of his divinity could not have been introduced and finally established in the church without long controversy and continued opposition. Historians would not have been silent as to the progress of so great a change, such a total revolution in the religious belief of Christians. Volumes must have been written in support of either doctrine: the writers of one age would be found to differ from those who preceded them; and since we have works remaining of all the three first centuries, we should find traces of all those successive changes which must have existed between the creed of the apostolical times and that of the Council of Nice.
There is indeed another hypothesis, which might have been rejected as absurd, if advocates had not been found who actually advanced it. It has been said, that the doctrine of the Council of Nice was entirely a new doctrine, which had never been maintained before, but which was fabricated and promulgated by the unanimous collusion of the Fathers assembled there. The existence of such a notion, improbable and irrational as it may appear, makes it desirable that an inquiry should be instituted similar to that, which is the object of the present work. Since we have writings of the three centuries which preceded the council of Nice, the question whether an entirely new doctrine was invented at that council becomes a question of fact; and the difficulty of forcing this new doctrine upon the whole Christian world may be illustrated by the supposition of an imaginary case in our own times. The period which had elapsed from the death of our Saviour, to the assembling of the Council of Nice, was about the same as that between the congress of Vienna and the reign of Henry the Seventh in England. Now let us suppose the ministers assembled at Vienna to have published a new history of Europe, in which it was asserted, that Henry the Seventh obtained the throne of England, not by his victory over Richard the Third, or by a kind of hereditary claim, but by a divine right which was universally recognised and never disputed in his own days. . There is surely no greater difference between such a fable and the real history of Henry the Seventh's accession, than between the notion of Jesus being very and eternal God, or a mere mortal man : and if it would be impossible to make the people of England receive the one as true, it would have been equally impossible, in the other case, for the whole Christian world to be induced to alter their belief.
On every account therefore it is important to ascertain the sentiments of the early Fathers. If the doctrine of the real nature of Christ was corrupted in the three first centuries, the writings of that period must shew the progress of the corruption. If no variation appears in the opinions of Christians during that period, but the Fathers of the three first centuries all deliver the same doctrine, we must surely be anxious to know what that doctrine was. For if it be true, as we have lately been told, “ that " the Fathers of the first three centuries were ge“nerally Unitarians, and believers in the simple hu
manity of Jesus Christ a,” we must allow, that the foundations of that faith which believes Jesus Christ to be God, are shaken even to the ground. On the other hand, if it should appear that all the AnteNicene Fathers with one consent speak of Christ as having existed from all eternity as very God, and that he took our human nature into union with the divine, we have surely good grounds for saying, that there never was a time when this was not the doctrine of the church, and that it was the true and genuine doctrine which the apostles themselves preached.
Not only should we be led by reason and experience to appeal to the Fathers as the oldest testimony, and therefore the most valuable, but we are invited to the investigation by our opponents. They assert, as was said above, that all the early Fathers were Unitarians; so that we need not be afraid of their denying the fairness of our appeal, when they themselves quote the same authority, and uphold it as favourable to their own cause.
Lindsey's Apology, p. 23, 24. Belsham's Calm Inquiry, p. 255.
In making this appeal, the Arians and the Socinians have not acted with the same constancy and uniformity. The Arians have invariably asserted, that the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers were upon their side.
their side. This was the language held by them at the council of Nice: and bishop Bull. and Dr. Waterland, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, had to refute the same assertion, when advanced by their Arian opponents. But the Socinians have not always been equally confident, nor indeed consistent with themselves, in referring to the early Fathers. It is impossible to read the writings of the Socinians, from their great leader down to our own times, without perceiving that they have felt the difficulty of reconciling the Ante-Nicene doctrines with their own. Gilbert Clerke mentions it rather as a fact deserving of praise, that the Socinians were the only persons who candidly acknowledged that the early writers did not agree with themselves. Socinus rather insinuates, than openly asserts, that his own party did not profess an agreement in doctrine with the Ante-Nicene Fathers : and he allows that these early writers spoke of Jesus as the Son of God, existing before the worlds, of the substance of the Father , &c. It is notorious however, that many of his own party did make this appeal. Socinus himself wished to evade the difficulty by acknowledging no authority but that of scripture,
b Respons. ad Vujeki. II. p. 617.
and by attempting to identify the use which his opponents made of the Fathers with the Romish doctrine of tradition. Socinus however must have known that his opponents never appealed to the Fathers as to an authority which was to be added to that of scripture: they appealed to them, as the best interpreters of a doctrine which was preached not long before their own days, and the true meaning of which they were most likely to understand Later Socinian writers have been more bold than their leader in claiming the support of the early Fathers. When the controversy was so rife in the seventeenth century, it was confidently asserted that up to the time of the council of Nice the Father alone was believed to be God : and even those who advanced so far as to preach the simple humanity of Christ, maintained that this was the belief of the Christian world before the doctrines were corrupted by the Fathers assembled at Nice. It is well known, that what is called the simple humanity of Christ has been carried much farther by the later Socinians than by those who preceded them: but it is singu
- We may quote the authority were written, and who must of Dr. Priestley upon this point: “ have been much better quali“ It will be an unanswerable “ fied to understand them, in
argument, a priori, against any " that respect at least, than we “particular doctrine being con- can pretend to be at this “ tained in the scriptures, that “ day." Hist. of early Opin“ it was never understood to be ions concerning Jesus Christ “ so by those persons for whose p. X “ immediate use the scriptures