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induce Plato to consider the divine nature under the threefold 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 of 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 be perfectly understood, till after an assiduous study of thirty ears. 12 y The arms of the Macedonians diffused over Asia and Egypt the language and learning of Greece; and the theological system of Plato was taught with less reserve, and perhaps with some improvements, in the celebrated school of Alexandria.” A numerous colony of Jews had been invited, by the favour of the Ptolemies, to settle in their new capital.” While the bulk of the nation practised the legal ceremonies, and pursued the lucrative occupations of commerce, a few Hebrews, of a more liberal spirit, devoted their lives to religious and philosophical contemplation.” They cultivated with diligence, and embraced with ardour, the theological system of the Athenian sage. But their national pride would have been mortified by a fair confession of their former poverty: and they boldly marked, as the sacred inheritance of their ancestors, the gold and jewels which they had so lately stolen from their Egyptian masters. One hundred years before the birth of Christ, a philosophical treatise, which manifestly betrays the style and sentiments of the school of Plato, was produced by the Alexandrian Jews, and
taught in the scaool o
Before Christ 100
12 The modern guides who lead me to the knowledge of the Platonic System are Cudworth (Intellectual System, p. 568-620), Basnage (Hist, des Juifs...l. iv, c. iv. p. 53–86), Le Clerc (Epist. Crit. vii. p. 194-209), and Brucker (Hist. Philos. tom. i. p. 675-706). As the learning of these writers was equal, and their intention different, an inquisitive observer may derive instruction from their disputes, and certainty from their agreement.
* Brucker, Hist. Philosoph. tom. i. p. 1349-1357. The Alexandrian school is celebrated by Strabo (l. xvii.) and Ammianus (xxii. 6). [Cp. Vacherot, Ecole d'Alexandrie.]
14 Joseph. Antiquitat. l. xii. c. 1. 3. Basnage, Hist, des Juifs. 1. vii. c. 7.
* For the origin of the Jewish philosophy, see Eusebius, Praeparat. Evangel. viii. 9, 10. According to Philo, the Therapeutae studied philosophy; and Brucker oo (Hist. Philosoph, tom. ii. p. 787) that they gave the preference to that Oi Plato.
unanimously received as a genuine and valuable relic of the inspired Wisdom of Solomon.” A similar union of the Mosaic faith and the Grecian philosophy distinguishes the works of Philo, which were composed, for the most part, under the reign of Augustus.” The material soul of the universe is might offend the piety of the Hebrews: but they applied the character of the Logos to the Jehovah of Moses and the patriarchs; and the Son of God was introduced upon earth under a visible, and even human, appearance, to perform those familiar offices which seem incompatible with the nature and attributes of the Universal Cause.19 The eloquence of Plato, the name of Solomon, the authority Royaled by of the school of Alexandria, and the consent of the Jews and to Greeks, were insufficient to establish the truth of a mysterious **" doctrine which might please, but could not satisfy, a rational mind. A prophet or apostle, inspired by the Deity, can alone exercise a lawful dominion over the faith of mankind; and the theology of Plato might have been for ever confounded with the philosophical visions of the Academy, the Porch, and the Lyceum, if the name and divine attributes of the Logos had not been confirmed by the celestial pen of the last and most sublime of the Evangelists.” The Christian Revelation, which was
*See Calmet, Dissertations sur la Bible, tom. ii. p. 277. The book of the Wisdom of Solomon was received by many of the fathers as the work of that monarch; and, although rejected by the Protestants for want of a Hebrew original, it has obtained, with the rest of the Vulgate, the sanction of the council of Trent.
* The Platonism of Philo, which was famous to a proverb, is proved beyond a doubt by Le Clerc (Epist. Crit. viii. p. 211-228). Basnage (Hist. des Juifs, l. iv. c. 5) has clearly ascertained that the theological works of Philo were composed before the death, and most probably before the birth, of Christ. In such a time of darkness, the knowledge of Philo is more astonishing than his errors. Bull, Defens. Fid. Nicen.s. i. c. i. p. 12. [Philo may have been about 25 years old at birth of Christ. For chronol. of his works see Massebleau, Le classement des oeuvres de Philon.]
* Mens agitat molem, et magnose corpori miscet.
Besides this material soul, Cudworth has discovered (p. 562) in Amelius, Porphyry, Plotinus, and, as he thinks, in Plato himself, a superior, spiritual, hupercosmian soul of the universe. But this double soul is exploded by Brucker, Basnage, and Le Clerc, as an idle fancy of the latter Platonists.
* Petav. Dogmata Theologica, tom. ii. 1. viii. c. 2, p. 791. Bull, Defens. Fid. Nicen. s. i. c. 1, p. 8, 13. This notion, till it was abused by the Arians, was freely adopted in the Christian theology. Tertullian (adv. Praxeam, c. 16) has a remarkable and dangerous passage. After contrasting, with indiscreet wit, the nature of God and the actions of Jehovah, he concludes: Scilicet ut haec de filio Dei non credendafuissesinon scripta essent; fortasse non credenda de Patre licet scripta.
*The Platonists admired the beginning of the Gospel of St. John, as containing an exact transcript of their own principles. Augustin. de Civitat. Dei, x. 29. Amelius apud Cyril. advers. Julian. 1. viii. p. 283. But in the third and fourth centuries, the Platonists of Alexandria might improve their Trinity by the secret study of the Christian theology.
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consummated under the reign of Nerva, disclosed to the world the amazing secret that the Logos, who was with God from the beginning and was God, who had made all things and for whom all things had been made, was incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; who had been born of a virgin, and suffered death on the cross. Besides the general design of fixing on a perpetual basis the divine honours of Christ, the most ancient and respectable of the ecclesiastical writers have ascribed to the evangelic theologian a particular intention to confute two opposite heresies, which disturbed the peace of the primitive church.” I. The faith of the Ebionites,” perhaps of the Nazarenes,” was gross and imperfect. They revered Jesus as the greatest of the prophets, endowed with supernatural virtue and power. They ascribed to his person and to his future reign all the predictions of the Hebrew oracles which relate to the spiritual and everlasting kingdom of the promised Messiah.” Some of them might confess that he was born of a virgin: but they obstinately rejected the preceding existence and divine perfections of the Logos, or Son of God, which are so clearly defined in the Gospel of St. John. About fifty years afterwards, the Ebionites, whose errors are mentioned by Justin Martyr with less severity than they seem to deserve,” formed a very inconsiderable portion of the Christian name. II. The Gnostics, who were distinguished by the epithet of Docetes, deviated into the contrary extreme, and betrayed the human, while they asserted the divine, nature of Christ. Educated in the school of Plato, accustomed to the sublime idea of the Logos, they readily conceived that the brightest AFon, or Emanation of the Deity, might assume the outward shape and visible appearances of a mortal;” but they vainly pretended that the imperfections of matter are incompatible with the purity of a celestial substance. While the blood of Christ yet smoked on Mount Calvary, the Docetes invented the impious and extravagant hypothesis that, instead of issuing from the womb of the Virgin,” he had descended on the banks of the Jordan in the form of perfect manhood; that he had imposed on the senses of his enemies, and of his disciples; and that the ministers of Pilate had wasted their impotent rage on an airy phantom, who seemed to expire on the cross and, after three days, to rise from the dead.28 The divine sanction which the Apostle had bestowed on the fundamental principle of the theology of Plato encouraged the learned proselytes of the second and third centuries to admire and study the writings of the Athenian sage, who had thus marvellously anticipated one of the most surprising discoveries of the Christian revelation. The respectable name of Plato was used by the orthodox,” and abused by the heretics,” as the common support of truth and error: the authority of his skilful commentators, and the science of dialects, were employed to justify the remote consequences of his opinions, and to supply the discreet silence of the inspired writers. The same subtle and profound questions concerning the nature, the generation, the distinction, and the equality of the three divine persons of the mysterious Triad, or Trinity,” were agitated in the philosophical, and in the Christian, schools of Alexandria. An eager spirit of curiosity urged them to explore the secrets of the abyss; and the pride of the professors and of their disciples was satisfied with the science of words. But the most sagacious of the Christian theologians, the great Athanasius himself, has candidly confessed * that, whenever he forced his understanding to meditate on the divinity of the Logos, 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 enquiry, we are compelled to feel and acknowledge the immeasurable disproportion 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. I. 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
The oblonites and Docetes
* See Beausobre, Hist. Critique du Manichéisme, tom. i. p. 377. The Gospel according to St. John is supposed to have been published about seventy years after the death of Christ. [The controversy as to the date and the authorsn.p is still hot. It betrays the influence of Alexandrian theology. The influence of Pla.o, which Gibbon dwells on, is more particularly that of the Jew Philo. His view of the Logos as the sixiew 9eot, image of God, &c. may be considered the origin of the doctrine of the Word, developed by Christian o *The sentiments of the Ebionites are fairly sta.ed by Mosheim (p. 331) and Le Clerc (Hist. Eccles. p. 535). The Clementines pub.ished among the apostolical Fathers, are attributed by the critics to one of these sectaries. [See above, p.10, note22.] *Staunch polemics, like Bull (Judicium Eccles. Cathol. c. 2), insist on the orthodoxy of the Nazarenes; which appears less pure and certain in the eyes of Mosheim (p. 330). *The humble condition and sufferings of Jesus have always been a stumbling block to the Jews. “Deus . . . contrariis coloribus Messiam depinxerat; futurus erat Rex, Judex, Pastor,” &c. See Limborch et Orobio Amica Collat. p. 8, 19, 5376, 192-234. . But this objection has obliged the believing Christians to lift up their eyes to a spiritual and everlasting kingdom. *Justin. Martyr. Dialog. cum Tryphonte, p. 143, 144. See Le Clerc, Hist. Eccles. p. 615. Bull and his editor §. (Judicium Eccles. Cathol. c. 7, and Appendix) attempt to distort either the sentiments or the words of Justin; but their violent correction of the text is rejected even by the Benedictine editors.
*The Arians reproached the orthodox party with borrowing their Trinity from the Valentinians and Malcionites. See Beausobre, Hist. du Manichéisme, l. iii. c. 5 % Non dignum est ex utero credere Deum, et Deum Christum . . . non dignum est ut tanta majestas 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. [That Christ was not born was the view of Marcion, not that of the early Docetae, who accepted the incarnation by Mary, but regarded her as passive, and not contributing her substance,—like a pipe through which water flows.] *Apostolis adhurin saeculo superstitibus apud Judaeam 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 leason deny that the sun shines at noon-day. These Docetes, who formed the most considerable party among the Gnostics, were so called because they granted only a seeming body to Christ. *Some proofs of the respect which the Christians entertained for the person and doctrine of Plato may be found in De la Mothele Vayer, tom. v. p. 135, &c. edit. 1757; and Basnage, Hist, des Juifs, tom. iv. p. 29, 79, &c. 30 Doleo bona fide, Platonem omnium haereticorum condimentarium factum. Tertullian. de Anima, c. 23. Petavius (Dogm. Theolog. tom. iii. proleg. 2) shews that this was a general complaint. Beausobre (tom. i. l. iii. c. 9, 1o) 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 sentiment of Beausobre may be reconciled with the opinion of Mosheim (General History of the Church, vol. i. p. 37).
Mysterious nature of the Trinity
zeal of the Christians
* If Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, (see Dupin, Bibliothèque Ecclésiastique, 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.
* Athanasius, tom. i. p. 808. His expressions have an uncommon energy; and, as he was writing to Monks, there could not be any occasion for him to affect a rational language.