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and solitary patn, which their first leaders had marked out, continued to deviate from the great society of mankind. Even the imperceptible sect of the Rogatians o affirm, without a blush, that when Christ should descend to judge the earth, he would find his true religion preserved only in a few nameless villages of the Caesarean Mauritania.(10)
#. schism of the Donatists was confined to Africa: the more diffusive mischief of the Trinitarian controversy successively penetrated into every part of the Christian world. The former was an accidental quarrel, occasioned by the abuse of freedom; the latter was a high and mysterious argument, derived from the abuse of philosophy. From the age of Constantine to that of Clovis and Theodoric, the temporal interests, both of the Romans and barbarians, were deeply involved in the theological disputes of Arianism. The historian may, o, be permitted respectfully to withdraw the veil of the sanctuary; and to deduce the progress of reason and faith, of error and passion, from the . school of Plato to the decline and fall of the empire.
The genius of Plato, informed by his own meditation, or by the traditional knowledge of the priests of Egypt,(11) had ventured to explore the mysterious nature of the Deity. When he had elevated his mind to the sublime contemplation of the first self-existent necessary cause of the universe, the Athenian sage was incapable of conceiving how the simple unity of his essence could admit the infinite variety of distinct and successive ideas which compose the model of the intellectual world; how a Being, purely incorporeal, could execute that perfect model, and mould, with a plastic hand, the rude and independent chaos. The vain hope of extricating himself from these difficulties, which must ever o the feeble powers of the human mind, might induce Plato to consider the divine nature under the three-fold modification; of the first cause, the reason or Logos, and the soul or spirit of the universe. His poetical imagination sometimes fixed and animated these metaphysical abstractions; the three archical or original principles were represented in the Platonic system as three Gods, united with each other by a mysterious and ineffable generation; and the Logos was particularly considered under the more accessible character of the Son of an Eternal Father, and the Creator and Governor of the world. Such appear to have been the secret doctrines which were cautiously whispered in the gardens of the academy; and which, according to the more recent disciples of Plato," could not †: perfectly understood, till after an assiduous study of thirty years.(12
The arms of the Macedonians diffused over Asia and Egypt the language and earning of Greece; and the theological system of Plato was taught, with less reserve, and perhaps with some improvements, in the celebrated school of Alexandria.(13) A numerous colony of Jews had been invited by the favour of the Ptolemies, to settle in their new capital.(14) While the bulk of the nation practised the legal ceremonies, and pursued the lucrative occupations of commerce, a few Hebrews, of a more i. spirit, devoted their lives to religious and philosophical contemplation.(15) They cultivated with diligence,
“Deus . . . . contrariis coloribus Messiam depinxerat; futurus erat Rex, Judex, pastor,” &c. See Lim borch et Orobio Amicat Collat. p. 8. 19.53–76. 192—234. But this objection has obliged the believing Christians to lift up their eyes to a spiritual and everlasting kingdom. (25) Justin Martyr. Dialog. cum Tryphonte, p. 143,144. See Le Clerc, Hist. Eccles. p.615. Bull, and his editor Grabe (Judicium Eccles. Cathol. c. 7, and Appendix), attempt to distort either the sentinents or the words of Justin; but their violent correction of the text is rejected even by the Benedictine editors. (26). The Arians reproached the orthodox party with borrowing their Trinity from the Valentinians and Marcionites. See Beausobre, Hist. du Manicheisme, l. iii. c. 5. 7. (27). Non dignum est ex utero credere Deum, et Deum Christum ... non dignum est ut tanta Inajestas per sordes et squalores mulieris transire credatur. The Gnostics asserted the impurity of matter and of marriage; and they were scandalized by the gross interpretations of the fathers, and even of Augustin himself. See Beausobre, tom. ii. p. 523.” (28) Apostohaadhuc in sacculo superstitibus apud Judæum Christi sanguine recente et phantasma corpus Domini asserebatur. Cotelerius thinks (Patres Apostol. tom. ii. p. 24,) that those who will not allow the Docetes to have arisen in the time of the Apostles, may with equal reason deny that the sun shines at noon-day. These Docetes, who formed the most considerable party among the Gnostics, were so called, because * granted only a seeming body to Christ.t (29) Some proofs of the respect which the Christians entertained for the person and doctrine of Plato, o o De la Mothele Vayer, tom. v. p. 135, &c. edit. 1757; and Basnage, Hist, des Juifs, tom. v. p. 259. 79, &c. (30) Doleo bonafide, Platonem onnium hareticorum condimentarium factum. Tertullian. de Anima, 9:23. Petavius (Dogm. Theolog-tom, iii. proleg. 2) shows that this was a general complaint, Beausobre (tom. i. i. iii, c.9, 10) has deduced the Gnostic errors from Platonic principles; and as, in the school of Alexandria, those principles were blended with the Oriental philosophy (Brucker, tom. i. p. 1356), the sen * o bre may be iled with the opinion of Mosheim (General History of the Church, vol. 1. p. 37). (31) If Theophilus, bishop of Antioch (see Dupin. Bibliothèque Ecclesiastique, tom. i. p. 66), was the first who employed the word Triad, Trinity, that abstract term, which was already familiar to the schools of philosophy, must have been introduced into the theology of the Christians after the middle of the second century. (32) Athanasius, tom. i. p. 808. His . have an uncommon energy; and as he was writing to Mouks, there could not be any occasion for him to affect a rational language.
ever he forced his understanding to meditate on the divinity of the , his toilsome and unavailing efforts recoiled on themselves; that the more he thought, the less he comprehended; and the more he wrote, the less capable was he of expressing his thoughts. in every step of the inquiry, we are compelled to feel and acknowledge the immeasurable o rtion between the size of the object and the capacity of the human mind. We may strive to abstract the notions of time, of space, and of matter, which so closely adhere to all the perceptions of our experimental knowledge. But as soon as we presume to reason of infinite substance, of spiritual generation, as often as we deduce any positive conclusions from a negative idea, we are involved in darkness, perplexity, and inevitable contradiction... As these difficulties arise from the nature of the subject, they oppress, with the same insuperable weight, the philosophic and the theological disputant; but we may observe two essential and peculiar circumstances, which discriminated the doctrines of the Catholic church from the opinions of the Platonic school. 1. A chosen society of philosophers, men of a liberal education and curious disposition, might silently meditate, and temperately discuss, in the gardens of Athens or the library of Alexandria, the abstruse questions of metaphysical science. The lofty speculations, which neither convinced the understanding, nor agitated the passions, of the Platonists themselves, were carelessly overlooked by the idle, the busy, and even the studious part of mankind.(33). But after the ; had been revealed as the sacred object of the faith, the hope, and the religious worship of the Christians, the mysterious system was embraced by a numerous *††. multitude in every province of the Roman world. hose persons, who, from their age or sex, or occupations, were the least qualified to judge, who were the least exercised in the habits of abstract reasoning, aspired to contemplate the economy of the Divine Nature; and it is the boast of Tertullian,(34) that a Christian mechanic could readily answer such questions as had perplexed the wisest of the Grecian sages. here the subject lies so far beyond our reach, the difference between the highest and the lowest of human understandings may indeed be calculated as infinitely small ; yet the degree of weakness may o be measured by the degree of obstinacy and dogmatic confidence. These speculations, instead of being treated as the amusement of a vacant hour, became the most serious business of the present, and the most useful preparation for a future life. A theology, which it was incumbent to believe, which it was impious to doubt, and which it might be dangerous, and even fatal, to mistake, became the familiar topic of private meditation and popular discourse. The cold indifference of philosophy was inflamed by the fervent spirit of devotion; and even the metaphors of common language suggested the fallacious prejudices of sense and experience. The Christians, who abhorred the gross and impure generation of #. Greek mythology,(35) were tempted to argue from the familiar analogy of the filial and paternal relations. The character of Son seemed to imply a perpetual subordination to the voluntary author of his existence;(36) but as the act of generation, in the most o and abstracted sense, must be supposed to transmit the properties of a common nature,(37) they durst not presume to circumscribe the powers or the duration of the Son of an eternal and omnipo
(33) In a treatise, which professed to explain the opinions of the ancient philosophers concerning the nature of the gods, we might expect to discover the theological Trinity of Plato. But Cicero very honestly confessed, that though he had translated the Timaeus, he could never understand that mysterious dialogue. See Hieronym. praef. ad I. xii. in Isaiam, tom. v. p. 154.
(34) Tertullian, in Apolog. c. 46. See Bayle Dictionnaire, au Inot Simonide. His remarks on the presumption of Tertullian are profound and interesting.
(35) Lactantius, iv. 8. W. Probole, or Prolatia, which the most orthodox divines borrowed without scruple from the Valentinians, and illustrated by the comparisons of a fountain and stream, the sun and its rays, &c., either meant nothing, or favoured a material idea of the divine generation. See Beausobre, tom. i. l. iii. c. 7, p. 548.
(36) Many of the primitive writers have frankly confessed, that the Son owed his being to the will of the Father. See Clarke's Scripture Trinity, p. 280–287. On the other hand, Athanasius and his followers seem unwilling to grant what they are afraid to deny. The schoolmen extricate themselves from this difficulty by the distinction of a preceding and a concomitant will. Petav. Dogm. Theolog, tom. ii. l. vi. c. 8, p. 587—603.
(37) See Petav. Dogm. Theolog. tom. ii. l. ii. c. 10. p. 159.
tent Father. Fourscore years after the death of Christ, the Christians o Bithynia declared before the tribunal of Pliny, that they invoked him as a God; and his divine honours have been perpetuated in every age and country, by the various sects who assumed the name of his jo Their tender reverence for the o of Christ, and their horror for the profane worship of any created being, would have engaged them to assert the equal and j. divinity of the Logos, if their rapid ascent toward the throne of heaven had not been imperceptibly checked by the so of violating the unity and sole supremacy P the great Father of Christ and of the Universe. The suspense and fluctuation produced in the minds of the Christians by these opposite tendencies, may be observed in the writings of the theologians who flourished after the end of the apostolic age, and before the origin of the Arian controversy. Their suffrage is claimed with equal confidence, by the orthodox and by the heretical parties; and the most inquisitive critics have fairly allowed, that if they had the good fortune of possessing the Catholic verity, they have delivered their conceptions in loose, inaccurate, and sometimes contradictory
: The devotion of individuals was the first circumstance which distinguished the Christians from the Platonists; the second was the authority of the church. The disciples of philosophy asserted the rights of intellectual freedom, and their respect for the sentiments of their teachers was a liberal and voluntary tribute, which they offered to superior reason. ... But the Christians formed a numerous and disciplined society; and the jurisdiction of their laws and magistrates was strictly exercised over the minds of the faithful. The loose wanderings of the imagination were gradually confined by creeds and confessions;(40) the freedom of private judgment submitted to the public wisdom of synods; the authority of a theologian was determined by his ecclesiastical rank; and the episcopal successors of the apostles inflicted the censures of the church, on those who deviated from the orthodox belief. But in an j. of religious controversy, every act of oppression adds new force to the elastic vigour of the mind; and the zeal or obstinacy of a spiritual rebel was sometimes stimulated by secret motives of ambition or avarice. A metaphysical argument became the cause or pretence of political contests; the subtleties of the Platonic school were used as the badges of popular factions, and the distance which separated their respective tenets was enlarged or magnified by the acrimony of dispute As long as the dark heresies of Praxeas and Sabellius laboured to confound the Father with the Son,(41) the orthodox party might be excused if they adhered more strictly and more earnestly to the distinction, than to the o, of the divine persons. But as soon as the heat of controversy had subsided, and the progress of the Sabellians was no longer, an object of terror to the churches of Rome, of Africa, or of Egypt; the tide of theological opinion began to flow with a gentle but steady motion toward the contrary extreme ; and the most orthodox doctors allowed themselves the use of the terms and definitions which had been censured in the mouth of the sectaries.(42). After the edict of toleration had restored peace and leisure to the Christians, the Trinitarian controversy was revived in the ancient seat of Platonism, the learned, the opulent, the tumultuous city of Alexandria; and the flame of religious discord was rapidly
(38) Carmenque Christo quasi Deo dicere secum invlcem. Plin. Epist. x.97. The sense of 8tos, Elohim, in the ancient languages, is critically examined by Le Clerc (Ars Critica, p. 150–156), and the propriety of worshipping a very excellent creature, is ably defended by the Socinian Emlyn (Tracts, p. 29–36, 51–145). (39) See Daillé de Usu Patrum, and Le Clerc Bibliothèque Universelle, tom. x. p.409. To arraign the faith of the Anti-Nicene fathers, was the object, or at least has been the effect, of the stupendous work of Petavius on the Trinity (Dogm. Theolog. tom. ii.), nor has the deep impression been erased by the learned defence of Bishop Bull.” --(40) The most ancient creeds were drawn up with the greatest latitude. See Bull (Judicium Eccles. Cathol.), who tries to prevent Episcopus from deriving any advantage from this observation. (41) The heresies ..? Praxeas, Sabellius, &c. are accurately explained by Mosheim (p. 425.680–714). Praxeas, who came to Rome about the end of the second century, deceived for some time the simplicity of the bishop, and was confuted by the pen of the angry Tertullian, (42) Socrates acknowledges, that the heresy of Arius proceeded from his strong desire to embrace an opinion the most diametrically opposite to that of Sabellius .