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alike scandalous to the church, alike pernicious to the state, still more minute in their origin, still more durable in their effects. It is my design to comprise in the present chapter a religious war of two hundred and fifty years, to represent the ecclesiastical and political schism of the Oriental sects, and to introduce their clamorous or sanguinary contests, by a modest inquiry into the doctrines of the primitive church.”
I. A laudable regard for the honour of the first proselytes has countenanced the belief, the hope, the CHAP. wish, that the Ebionites, or at least the Nazarenes, XLVII. were distinguished only by their obstinate perse-ja. verance in the practice of the Mosaic rites. Their Ebionites. churches have disappeared, their books are obliterated: their obscure freedom might allow a latitude of faith, and the softness of their infant creed would be variously moulded by the zeal or prudence of three hundred years. Yet the most charitable criticism must refuse these sectaries any knowledge of the pure and proper divinity of Christ. Educated in the school of Jewish prophecy and prejudice, they had never been taught to elevate their hopes above a human and temporal Messiah.” If they had courage to hail their king when he appeared in a plebeian garb, their grosser apprehensions were incapable of discerning their God, who had studiously disguised his celestial character under the name and person of a mortal." The familiar companions of Jesus of Nazareth conversed with their friend and countryman, who, in all the actions of rational and animal life, appeared of the same species with themselves. His progress from infancy to youth and manhood was marked by a regular increase in stature and wisdom; and after a painful agony of mind and body, he expired on the cross. He lived and died for the service of mankind: but the life and death of Socrates had likewise been devoted to the cause of religion and justice; and although the stoic or the hero may disdain the humble virtues of Jesus, the tears which he shed over his friend and country may be esteemed
* By what means shall I authenticate this previous inquiry, which I have studied to circumscribe and compress 2—If I persist in supporting each fact or reflection by its proper and special evidence, every line would demand a string of testimonies, and every note would swell to a critical dissertation. But the numberless passages of antiquity which I have seen with my own eyes are compiled, digested, and illustrated, by Petavius and Le Clerc, by Beausobre and Mosheim. I shall be content to fortify my narrative by the names and characters of these respectable guides; and in the contemplation of a minute or remote object, I am not ashamed to borrow the aid of the strongest glasses: 1. The Dogmata Theologica of Petavius, are a work of incredible labour and compass; the volumes which relate solely to the Incarnation (two folios, vth and with, of 837 pages) are divided into xvi books—the first of history, the remainder of controversy and doctrine. The Jesuit's learning is copious and correct; his latinity is pure, his method clear, his argument profound and well connected; but he is the slave of the fathers, the scourge of heretics, and the enemy of truth and candour, as often as they are inimical to the Catholic cause. 2. The Armenian Le Clerc, who has composed in a quarto volume (Amsterdam, 1716) the ecclesiastical history of the two first centuries, was free both in his temper and situation; his sense is clear, but his thoughts are narrow; he reduces the reason or folly of ages to the standard of his private judgment, and his impartiality is sometimes quickened, and sometimes tainted, by his opposition to the fathers. See the heretics (Cerinthians, lxxx. Ebionites, ciii. Carpocratians, cKx. Valentinians, cKxi. Basilidians, cKxiii. Marcionites, czli, &c.) under their proper dates. 3. The Histoire Critique du Manicheisme (Amsterdam, 1734, 1739, in two vols. in 4to, with a posthumous dissertation sur les Nazarenes, Lausanne, 1745) of M. de Beausobre, is a treasure of ancient philosophy and theology. The learned historian spins with incomparable art the systematic thread of opinion, and transforms himself by turns into the person of a saint, a sage, or a heretic. Yet his refinement is sometimes excessive: he betrays an amiable partiality in favour of the weaker side, and, while he guards against calumny, he does not allow sufficient scope for superstition and fanaticism. A copious table of contents will direct the reader to any point that he wishes to examine. 4. Less profound than Petavius, less independent than Le Clerc, less ingenious than Beausobre, the historian Mosheim is full, rational, correct, and moderate. In his learned work, De Rebus Christianis ante Constantinum (Helmstadt, 1753, in 4to.), see the Nazarenes and Ebionites, p. 172–179. 328–332. The Gnostics in general, p. 179, &c. Cerinthus, p. 196—202. Basilides, p. 352–361. Carpocrates, p. 363—367. Valentinus, p. 371—389. Marcion, p. 404–410. The Manichaeans, p. 829–837, &c.
b Kozi wag ravors; hasus roy Xglorov &végorov s: &véewrov orgorboxousy yevnorsada, says the Jew Tryphon (Justin. Dialog. p. 207), in the name of his countrymen; and the modern Jews, the few who divert their thoughts from money to religion, still hold the same language, and allege the literal sense of the prophets.
• Chrysostom (Basnage, Hist. des Juifs, tom. v. c. 9, p. 183) and Athanasius (Petav. Dogmat. Theolog. tom. v. l. i. c. 2. p. 3) are obliged to confess that the divinity of Christ is rarely mentioned by himself or his apostles.
go; the purest evidence of his humanity. The miracles "*" of the gospel could not astonish a people who held with intrepid faith the more splendid prodigies of the Mosaic law. The prophets of ancient days had cured diseases, raised the dead, divided the sea, stopped the sun, and ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. And the metaphorical style of the Hebrews might ascribe to a saint and martyr, the adoptive title of SoN of GoD.
.. Yet in the insufficient creed of the Nazarenes and
an eva- - - - e - - - - tion. the Ebionites, a distinction is faintly noticed between the heretics, who confounded the generation of Christ. in the common order of nature, and the less guilty schismatics, who revered the virginity of his mother, and excluded the aid of an earthly father. The incredulity of the former was countenanced by the visible circumstances of his birth, the legal marriage of his reputed parents, Joseph and Mary, and his lineal claim to the kingdom of David and the inheritance of Judah. But the secret and authentic history has been recorded in several copies of the gospel according to St. Matthew," which these sectaries long preserved in the original Hebrew," as the sole evidence of their faith. The natural suspicions of the husband, conscious of his own chastity, were dispelled by the assurance (in a dream) that his wife was pregnant of the Holy Ghost: and as this distant and * The two first chapters of St. Matthew did not exist in the Ebionite copies (Epiphan. Haeres. xxx. 13); and the miraculous conception is one of the last articles which Dr. Priestley has curtailed from his scanty creed. * It is probable enough that the first of the gospels for the use of the Jewish converts was composed in the Hebrew or Syriac idiom: the fact is attested by a chain of fathers—Papias, Irenaeus, Origen, Jerom, &c. It is devoutly believed by the Catholics, and admitted by Casaubon, Grotius, and Isaac Vossius, among the protestant critics. But this Hebrew gospel of St. Matthew is most unaccountably lost; and we may accuse the diligence or fidelity of the primitive churches, who have preferred the unauthorised version of some nameless Greek. Erasmus and his followers, who respect our Greek text as the original gospel, deprive themselves of the evidence which declares it to be the work of an apostle. See Simon,
Hist. Critique, &c. tom. iii. c. 5–9, p. 47–101, and the Prolegomena of Mi and Wetstein to the New Testament. -
domestic prodigy could not fall under the personal §§
observation of the historian, he must have listened to the same voice which dictated to Isaiah the future conception of a virgin. The son of a virgin, generated by the ineffable operation of the Holy Spirit, was a creature without example or resemblance, superior in every attribute of mind and body to the . children of Adam. Since the introduction of the Greek or Chaldean philosophy, the Jews were persuaded" of the pre-existence, transmigration, and immortality of souls; and Providence was justified by a supposition, that they were confined in their earthly prisons to expiate the stains which they had contracted in a former state." But the degrees of purity and corruption are almost immeasurable. It might be fairly presumed, that the most sublime and virtuous of human spirits was infused into the offspring of Mary and the Holy Ghost;" that his abasement was the result of his voluntary choice; and that the object of his mission was to purify, not his own, but the sins of the world. On his return to his native skies, he received the immense reward of his obedience; the
* The metaphysics of the soul are disengaged by Cicero (Tusculan. l. i.) and Maximus of Tyre (Dissertat. xvi.) from the intricacies of dialogue, which sometimes amuse, and often perplex, the readers of the Phaedrus, the Phaedon, and , the Laws of Plato. & The disciples of Jesus were persuaded that a man might have sinned before he was born (John ix. 2), and the Pharisees held the transmigration of virtuous souls (Joseph. de Bell. Judaico, l. ii. c. 7); and a modern Rabbi is modestly assured, that Hermes, Pythagoras, Plato, &c. derived their metaphysics from his illustrious countrymen. h Four different opinions have been entertained concerning the origin of human souls. 1. That they are eternal and divine. 2. That they were created, in a separate state of existence, before their union with the body. 3. That they have been propagated from the original stock of Adam, who contained in himself the mental as well as the corporeal seed of his posterity. 4. That each soul is occasionally created and embodied in the moment of conception.—The last of these sentiments appears to have prevailed among the moderns; and our spiritual history is grown less sublime, without becoming more intelligible. * “Or, Å row xarneo; spuzn Å row A32, ny—was one of the fifteen heresies imputed to Origen, and denied by his apologist (Photius, Bibliothec. cod. cxvii. p. 296). Some of the Rabbis attribute one and the same soul to the persons of Adam, David, and the Messiah.
II. A pure
everlasting kingdom of the Messiah, which had been darkly foretold by the prophets, under the carnal images of peace, of conquest, and of dominion. Omnipotence could enlarge the human faculties of Christ to the extent of his celestial office. In the language of antiquity, the title of God has not been severely confined to the first parent, and his incomparable minister, his only begotten Son, might claim, without presumption, the religious, though secondary,
worship of a subject world.
II. The seeds of the faith, which had slowly arisen in the rocky and ungrateful soil of Judea, were transplanted, in full maturity, to the happier climes of the Gentiles; and the strangers of Rome or Asia, who never beheld the manhood, were the more readily disposed to embrace the divinity, of Christ. The polytheist and the philosopher, the Greek and the barbarian, were alike accustomed to conceive a long
succession, an infinite chain of angels or daemons, or
deities, or aeons, or emanations, issuing from the throne of light. Nor could it seem strange or incredible, that the first of these aeons, the Logos, or word of God, of the same substance with the Father, should descend upon earth, to deliver the human race from vice and error, and to conduct them in the paths of life and immortality. But the prevailing doctrine of the eternity and inherent pravity of matter infected the primitive churches of the East. Many among the Gentile proselytes refused to believe that a celestial spirit, an undivided portion of the first essence, had been personally united with a mass of impure and contaminated flesh: and, in their zeal for the divinity, they piously abjured the humanity, of Christ. While his blood was still recent on Mount Calvary,
j Apostolis adhuc in seculo superstitibus, apud Judaeum Christi sanguine recente, PHANTASMA domini corpus asserebatur. Hieronym. advers. Lucifer. c. 8. The epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, and even the gospel according