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A.D. 97. THE LOGOS. 47
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 chris1, ,0°by the Alexandrian Jews, and unanimously received as a genuine and valuable relic of the inspired Wisdom of Solomon.16 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.17 The material soul of the universe18 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 of the school of Alexandria, and the consent of the Jews and Rmnied br Greeks, were insufficient to establish the truth of a mysterious J^'jtRT"8 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 ai;d divine attributes of the Logos had not been confirmed by the celestial pen of the last and most sublime of the Evangelists.20 The Christian Revelation, which was 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, TheKbion- which disturbed the peace of the primitive church.21 i>oc<-tcs. I. The faith of the Ebionites,22 perhaps of the Nazarenes,23 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.24 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,25 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
16 See Calinet, Dissertations But la Bible, torn. 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.
17 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, 1. iv. c. 5) has clearly ascertained that the theological works of Plulo 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.
'* Mens agitat molem, et magno se corpore miscet.
Besides this material soul, Cudworth has discovered (p. 562) in Amelius, Porphyry, Plotinus, and, as he thinks, in Plato himself, a superior spiritual lii/percosmiun 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, torn. 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 Aiians, was freely adopted in the Christian theology. Tertullian (adv. Praxeam, c. Hi) has a remarkable and dangerous passage. After contrasting, with indiscreet wit, the nature of God and the actions of Jehovah, he concludes: Scilicet ut hoec de filio Dei non credenda fuisse, si non scripta essent; fortasse non credenda de Patre licet script*. *
* Scarcely before the birth of Christ. Diet, of Greek and Rom. Biogr. vol. iii.
Philo was one of the ambassadors to p. 310.— S.
Caligula in A.d. 40; and though he was b Tertullian is here arguing against the
an old man at that time, we cannot place Patripassians; those who asserted that the
his birth much earlier than B.C. 20. See Father was born of the Virgin, died, and
Clinton, Fast. Rom. vol. i. p. 25; Smith's was buried.—M.
*° 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. Amelias iipud 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.
21 Sen Beausobre, Hist. Critique du Maniche'isme, torn. i. p. 377. The Gospel according to St. John is supposed to have been published about seventy years after the death of Christ.
'■" The sentiments of the Ebionites are fairly stated by Mosheim (p. 331) and Le Clerc (Hist. Eccles. p. 535). The Clementines, published among the apostolical Fathers, are attributed by the critics to one of these sectaries.
23 Stanch 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 Mosheini (p. 330).
u The humble condition and sufferings of Jesus have always been a stumblingblock to the Jews. "Dens . . . contrariis coloribus Messiam depinxerat; futurus erat "Rex, Judex, Pastor," &c. See Limborch et Orobio Arnica 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.
'•" 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 sentiments or the words of Justin; but their violent correction of the text is rejected even by the Benedictine editors.
A.d. 97. MYSTERIOUS NATURE OF THE TRINITY. 49
brightest JEon, or Emanation of the Deity, might assume the outward shape and visible appearances of a mortal ;26 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,27 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.*8
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 nature of 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,29 and abused by the heretics,30 as the common support of truth and error: the authority of his skilful commentators and the science of dialectics 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*1 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 confessed32 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 inquiry 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 diificulties 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.
56 The Arians reproached the orthodox party with borrowing their Trinity from the Valentinians and Marcionites. See Beausobre, Hist, du Manichdisnie, 1. iii. c. 5, 7.
"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, torn. ii. p. 523.
28 Apostolis adhuc in sasculo superstitibus apud Judscam Christi sanguine recente, et phantasma corpus Domini asserebatur. Cotelerius thinks (Patres Apostol. torn. 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 noonday. 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 Do la Mothe le Vayer, torn. v. p. 135, &c, edit. 1757; and Basnage, Hist, des Juifs, torn. iv. p. 29, 79, &c.
"Doleo bona fide, Platonem omnium ha?reticorum condimentarium factum. Tertullian. de Anima, c. 23. Petavius (Dogm. Theolog. torn. iii. proleg. 2) shows that this was a general complaint. Beausobre (torn. i. 1. 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, torn. i. p. 1356), the sentiment of Beausobre may be reconciled with the opinion of Mosheim (General History of the Church, vol. i. p. 37).
*' If TheophiluB, bishop of Antioch (see Dupin, Bibliotheque Eccle'siastique, torn, 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.
Vol. III. K
I. A chosen society of philosophers, men of a liberal education and z<?ai of the curious disposition, might silently meditate, and temperately christians, 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 Logos 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 and increasing multitude in every province of the Roman world. Those 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
M Athanasius, torn. 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.
"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 Tima>us, he could never understand that mysterious dialogue. See Hieronym. prasf. ad 1. xii. in Isaiam, torn. v. p. 154 [torn. iv. p. 494, ed. Vallars.].
A.D. 97. ZEAL OF THE CHRISTIANS. 51
of Tertullian34 that a Christian mechanic could readily answer such questions as had perplexed the wisest of the Grecian sages. Where 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 perhaps 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 the 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 spiritual 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 omnipotent Father. Fourscore years after the death of Christ, the Christians of 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 assume the name of his disciples.38 Their tender reverence for the memory of Christ, and their horror for the profane worship of any created being, would have engaged them to assert the equal and absolute divinity of the Logos, if their rapid ascent towards the throne
M Tertullian. in Apolog. c. 46. See Bayle, Dictionnaire, au mot Simonidc. His remarks on the presumption of Tertullian are profound and interesting.
* Lactantius, iv. 8. Yet the Probole, or Prolatio, which the most orthodox divines borrowed without scruple from the Valentinians, and illustrated by the comparisons of a fountain and stream, the Bun and its rays, &c., either meant nothing, or favoured a material idea of the divine generation. See Beausobre, torn. i. 1. iii. c. 7, p. 548.
* Many of the primitive writers have frankly confessed that the Son owed his being to the trill 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. torn. ii. 1. vi. c. 8, p. 587603.
17 See Petav. Dogm. Theolog. torn. ii. 1. ii. c. 10, p. 159.
"Carmenque Christo quasi Deo dicere secum invicem. Plin. Epist. x. 97. The sense of Dots, etii, 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).