Page images

but neither were they prevented from attempting to prove the same doctrines, as we have seen, from the books of the Old Testament, though they acknowledged that the body of the Jewish nation never learned them from those books. In like manner, though they supposed that the apostles left sufficient traces' of these sublime doctrines in their writings, they thought that the common Christians, for whose use they were written, did not perceive them, or make the proper inferences from them. That they should not have done this will not be thought extraordinary, if we consider the extreme caution with which, according to the account of these fathers themselves, those doctrines were taught in these books.

Such a revolution has time made in our apprehensions of things, that the doctrines of the pre-existence and divinity of Christ are now taught to children, as some of the first elements of Christianity; but formerly the case was very different. They were considered as most sublime and difficult doctrines, and therefore, not to be taught till after every thing else relating to the Gospel bad been admitted and well understood. That these doctrines were actually considered in this light, appears from a great number of passages in the writings of the fathers, many of which I shall introduce in other parts of this work, and especially some very striking ones from Origen. But not to advance a thing of this consequence without some evidence, in a place where it will be particularly wanted, I shall produce a few passages of this kind here.

Eusebius, after demonstrating the divine mission of Christ as a prophet, introduces his discourse concerning his preexistence and divinity as a “mysterious and recondite doctrine.”

Austin compares the doctrine of the humanity of Christ to milk, and the doctrine of the divinity to strong meat, fit for men.t

“ The doctrine of the incarnation,Chrysoslom says, very difficult to be received ;" and then describing the great condescension of the Maker of all things in submitting to be carried nine months in the womb of a woman, he says,

6 was

Καιρος ηδη και απορρητοθερων εφαψασθαι λογων, των περι της κατ' αυλον μυςικωίερας Teodoyras. Demonstratio, L. iv. C. i. p. 144. (P.).

+ « Ut nutritus atque roboratus perveniat ad manducandum cibum, quod est In principio erat verbum, et verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat verbum. Lac vostruin, Christus humilis est: cibus noster, idem ipse Christus æqualis Patri." In 1 Johan. Opera, IX. p. 594. (P.)

· Iloku duonapadeKTOS Y ó ons oQpKWIEWS 207oç. Serm. viii. Opera, V. pp. 131, 132. (P.)

that on this account the prophets announced it very obscurely. Again, observing that it was necessary to preach the humanity before the divinity of Clirist, he says,

* This was the order respecting his deity and incarnation, though it is introduced by John in a different manner from the rest, but in perfect agreement with them. But how? I say, that the doctrine not being taught at first, it was proper to dwell upon the incarnation, and to exercise them in the doctrine of the flesh; teaching them, from things gross and sensible ; but when the doctrine was fixed, and the preaching received, it was then proper to begin higher.'

Cyril of Alexandria, explaining a passage in Isaiah, says, “ Here he mixes a great and profound mystery, which required a mystical initiation ; for so it was revealed to the divine Peter.”+

Agobard considered what John taught concerning the divinity of Christ as being so difficult to be understood, that in order to it, the same inspiration was necessary that he himself had. I

“ Perfection,” says Ecumenius, " is the doctrine concerning the divinity of Christ, as far as the human understanding can comprehend it." Again, he says, “by first elements the apostle means the incarnation. || For, as with respect to letters, so in the divine oracles, what relates to the incarnation must be learned in the first place ; for these were capable of being received by unbelievers and children ; but to philosophize concerning the divinity of Christ, is left to grown men. Do you see why he rests so long in these low things? It is on account of the weakness of his hearers, who were not able to receive the perfect doctrine. For which reason, having in the beginning of the epistle philosophized but a little concerning the divinity of Christ, he presently changed his discourse, and the epistle is full of low things."* This he gives from Photius. Again, after having observed that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had spoken of the naked word of God, he says, that “ he returned to the incarnation, lest he should confound his reader with the sublimity of his doctrine.”+

Ου/ω δη και η ταξις αυτη η περι της θεοτηθος και περι της οικονομιας, ει και απεναντιας τους αλλους γεγονε παρα Ιωαννε, αλλ' όμως σφοδρα συμφωνως αυτοις και πως; Εγω λεγω, τι παρα μεν την αρχην εδεπω το λογα σπαρενλος, ακολοθον ην τω της οικονομιας ενδιατριβειν λογω, και σερι της σαρκος γυμναζειν διδασκαλιαν απο των παχυτερων και αισθητων προοικιαζομενες επειδη δε επαγη τα της γνωσεως, και εδεξανθο το κηρυγμα, λοιπον ευκαιρον ην awTev apXeofas. In Ps. xliv. Opera, Ill. p. 223. (P.)

+ “Immiscet autem hic mysterium profundum et magnum, et quod superna quadam mystagogia opus habet. Revelatum est enim sic divino Petro.” In Is. C. xlix. Opera, 1. p. 472. (P.)

1“ Inde qui hæc dixit accepit Johanges ille, qui discumbebat super pectus Domini, et de pectore Domini bibebat quod nobis propinaret. Sed propinavit verba. Intellectum autem debes capere unde et ipse biberat qui tibi propinavit." De Imaginibus, p. 231. (P.)

6 Τελειοθης δε η ανωλαίω ή περι της θεολογιας Χριςο, καθοσον εςιν ανθρωπω δυνατον, xosas Kerals. In Heb. Opera, II. p. 351. (P2)

.!! A writer in the Monthly Repository (XV. pp. 395, 336) objects to the word “ incarnation;" which, however, Dr. Priestley does not use in its popular sense, but as answering to the Greek svay paninois, the word " humanity" being repre

We see, then, that in the opinion of these fathers, (and some of them who write in this manner lived pretty early, though others of them wrote in a later period,) there were very mysterious and difficult doctrines to be revealed, of which no person to whom Christianity was preached had the least conception, and to which it was apprehended they must be exceedingly averse. Let us now see in what manner they supposed that our Saviour and the apostles conducted themselves in this nice circumstance, and what period it was that they thought to be the most proper for making the great discovery.

To give some idea of the nature of this question, I would observe, that, if it should appear that a discovery of so great magnitude, as the fathers represent this to have been, made no noise at all at the time fixed for the discovery, if it excited no particular attention ; neither occasioning any doubt or controversy among Christians themselves, nor bringing any objection to their doctrine from their enemies, it will afford a strong reason to suppose that no such discovery was made at that particular time. The Jews to whom the Gospel was first preached, as the fathers admitted, expected nothing more than a man for their Messiah. They were fully sensible that no Jew had any idea of his having pre-existed at all, and much less of his having held any office of importance before he came into the world. When was it, then, that the Jews, to whom the Gospel was preached, were taught that Christ bad pre-existed, that he was the logos of God, the maker of the world under God, or properly God himself? Was it in our Saviour's own life-time? Was it at the de

Στοιχεια αρχης, την ενανθρωπησιν λεγει ώσπερ γαρ επι των γραμμαίων πρωλον τα τοιχεια μανθανομεν" έτως και επι των θειων λογιων εδει πρωθον τα περι της ενανθρωπήσεως διδασκεσθαι ταυλα γαρ ταις απιςοις ετι και νηπιαις ακοαις χωρητα ως το γε περι της θεοτηθος το Χριςο φιλοσοφειν, τελειων ην λοιπον ορας την αιτιαν δι' ήν τοις ταπεινοις εμφιλοχωρει; Δια την των ακρονίων ασθενειαν ουκ ισχνονlων τα τελεια δεξασθαι· διο και παρα τας αρχας της επιςολης βραχεα φιλοσοφησας σερι της θεοτηθας το Χρις, ευθυς κατεπαυσε τον λογον των μεντοι ταπεινων η επιστολη γεμει. Ιω Ηeb. Opera, H. p. 952. (Ρ.)

+ Ειρηκως σερι γυμνε το Θεου λογα, ηλθεν εις την ενανθρωπησιν, ίνα μη το ύψει των &lon MrYwy inwyliarugi. Ibid. C. i. p. 320. (P.)

scent of the Spirit at Pentecost? Or was it in a later period of the gospel history? If no traces can be perceived of any such discovery, in any period of the gospel history, an argument may be drawn from the consideration of it, highly unfavourable to the doctrine of Christ having any nature superior to that of man; and when this circumstance shall be sufficiently attended to, (as I suspect it never has been yet,) the Arian hypothesis must be greatly shaken, but especially that of the perfect equality of the Son to the Father.

Considerations of this kind, if they occur to him, no person, who thinks at all, can absolutely neglect, so as to satisfy himself with having no hypothesis on the subject. We certainly find the apostles, as well as the rest of the Jews, without any knowledge of the divinity of Christ, with whom they lived and conversed as a man;

* and if they ever became acquainted with it, there must have been a time when it was either discovered by them, or made known to them; and the effects of the acquisition or the communication of extraordinary knowledge, are, in general, proportionably conspicuous.

Had we no written history of our Saviour's life, or of the preaching of the apostles, or only some very concise one; still so very extraordinary an article as this would hardly have been unknown, much less when the history is so fuil and circumstantial as it is.

Had there been any pretence for imagining that the Jews, in our Saviour's time, had any knowledge of the doctrine of the Trinity, and that they expected the second person in it in the character of their Messiah, the question I propose would have been needless. But nothing can be more evident than that, whatever some may fancy with respect to more ancient times, every notion of a Trinity was obliterated from the minds of the Jews in our Saviour's time. It is, therefore, not only a curious, but a serious and important question, When was it introduced, and by what steps? I have answered it on my hypothesis, of its being an innovation and a corruption of the Christian doctrine ; let others do the same, on the idea of its being an essential part of it. Let us, then, see what it is that the Christian fathers, who themselves believed the pre-existence and divinity of Christ, and who were much nearer than we are to the time when the gospel was promulgated, have said on this subject. See Vol. XIII. p. 106 (on Mark v. 31); XVIII. pp. 218, 219.



CHAPTER III. of the Conduct of our Saviour himself, with respect to his

own supposed Pre-existence and Divinity. If we look into the gospel history, we shall find, that all that our Saviour himself taught, or insinuated, were his divine mission in general, or his being the Messiah in particular; with the doctrine of the resurrection, and that of himself coming again to raise the dead and judge the world, These doctrines, accompanied with moral instructions, and reproofs of the Pharisees for corrupting the law of God, made up the whole of his preaching. He never told his disciples that he had pre-existed, or that he had had any thing to do before he came into the world ; much less that lie had made the world, and governed it; and there is abundant evidence that this was admitted by the Christian fathers,

Athanasius expresses his sense of the difficulty with which the Jews admitted that Christ was any thing more than a man, very strongly in the following passage : « He calls his humanity the Son of Man;" for the Jews, always opposing God, held a twofold blaspheny with respect to Christ; for some of them being offended at his flesh, viz. the Son of Man, thought him to be a prophet, but not God, and called him a glutton and a wine-bibber ; who were forgiven, for it was then the beginning of the preaching, and the world could not yet believe him to be God, who was made man; wherefore Christ says, Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, viz. his body, it shall be forgiven him. For I will venture to say, that not even the blessed disciples themselves were fully persuaded concerning his divinity, till the Holy Spirit came upon them at the day of Pentecost. For when they saw him after his resurrection, some worshipped, but others doubted, yet they were not on that account condemned.”

* Την δε ανθρωποτητα αντε υιον ανθρωπου νυν γαρ φησιν εδοξασθη ο γιος τα ανθρωπα os

αει τω Θεω προσκρυονίες Ιεδαιοι, διττην προς Χριςον την βλασφημιαν εκεκτηνίο οι μεν γαρ τη σαρκι αυτε, ήγεν τω δια του ανθρωπο αροσκοπτονίες, προφητην αυτον, αλλ' ου Θεον ειναι ενομιζον, και φαγον αυτον και οινοποίην εκαλεν, δις και συγνωμην εδωκεν αρχη γαρ ην τα κηρυγμαλος, και επω εχωρει ο κοσμος Θεoν τις ευειν γενομενον ανθρωπον· διο φησιν ο Χριςος ότι, ός αν ειπη λογον κατά τα υιου τα ανθρωπο, ηγουν τα σωματος αυτε, αφεθησεται αυτο τολμω γαρ λεγειν ότι ουδε αυτοι οι μακαριοι μαθηται το τελειον τερι της αυτο θεοτηθος ειχαν φρονημα, έως το πνευμα το άγιον αυτως τη πεντηκος η επεφοίτησεν· επει και μετα την αναςασιν ιδονίες αυλον, οι μεν προσεκύνησαν, οι δε εδις ασαν" αλλ' ουκ εκ τοτε KATExpo Inoay. Sermo major de Fide, in Montfaucon's Collectio, II. p. 39. (P.) See Vol. XVIII. p. 219.

« PreviousContinue »