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Authority of the church.
of heaven had not been imperceptibly checked by the apprehension of violating the unity and sole supremacy of 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 language.39 II. The devotion of individuals was the first circumstance which
distinguished the Christians from the Platonists: the second hot was the authority of the church. The disciples of philo
sophy 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 age 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
39 See Daillé, de Usu Patrum, and Le Clerc, Bibliothèque Universelle, tom. x. p. 409. To arraign the faith of the Ante-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 Episcopius from deriving any advantage from this observation.
* Dr. Burton's work on the doctrine of by those who wish to obtain clear notions the Anto-Nicene fathers must be consulted on this subject.- M.
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 equality 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 communicated from the schools to the clergy, the people, the province, and the East. The abstruse question of the eternity of the Logos was agitated in ecclesiastic conferences and popular sermons; and the heterodox opinions of Arius 43 were soon made public by his own zeal and by that of his adversaries. His most implacable adversaries have acknowledged the learning and blameless life of that eminent presbyter, who, in a former election, had declined, and perhaps generously declined, his pretensions to the episcopal throne.44 His competitor Alexander assumed the office of his judge. The important cause was argued before him; and if at first he seemed to hesitate, he at length pronounced his final sentence as an absolute rule of faith.45 The undaunted presbyter, who presumed to resist the authority of his angry bishop, was separated from the communion of the church. But the pride of Arius was supported by the applause of a numerous party. He reckoned among his immediate followers two bishops of Egypt, seven presbyters, twelve deacons, and (what may appear almost incredible) seven hundred
41 The heresies of 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.
43 The figure and manners of Arius, the character and numbers of his first proselytes, are painted in very lively colours by Epiphanius (tom. i. Hæres. lxix. 3, p. 729 (ed. Paris, 1622]), and we cannot but regret that he should soon forget the historian, to assume the task of controversy.
44 See Philostorgius (1. i. c. 3), and Godefroy's ample Commentary. Yet the credibility of Philostorgius is lessened, in the eyes of the orthodox, by his Arianism; and in those of rational critics, by his passion, his prejudice, and his ignorance.
*Sozomen (1. i. c. 15) represents Alexander as indifferent, and even ignorant, in the beginning of the controversy; while Socrates (1. i. c. 5) ascribes the origin of the dispute to the vain curiosity of his theological speculations. Dr. Jortin (Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, vol. ii. p. 178) has censured, with his usual freedom, the conduct of Alexander; tpos ögyny igartitu .... bpoiws Ogóruv ixíasvos.
virgins. A large majority of the bishops of Asia appeared to support or favour his cause; and their measures were conducted by Eusebius of Cæsarea, the most learned of the Christian prelates; and by Eusebius of Nicomedia, who had acquired the reputation of a statesman without forfeiting that of a saint. Synods in Palestine and Bithynia were opposed to the synods of Egypt. The attention of the prince and people was attracted by this theological dispute; and the deci
sion, at the end of six years, 46 was referred to the supreme A.D. 318-325.
* authority of the general council of Nice. When the mysteries of the Christian faith were dangerously
exposed to public debate, it might be observed that the systems of human understanding was capable of forming three distinct, the Trinity.
though imperfect, systems concerning the nature of the Divine Trinity, and it was pronounced that none of these systems, in a pure and absolute sense, were exempt from heresy and error. 47
. According to the first hypothesis, which was maintained
by Arius and his disciples, the Logos was a dependent and spontaneous production, created from nothing by the will of the Father. The Son, by whom all things were made, 48 had been begotten before all worlds, and the longest of the astronomical periods could be compared only as a fleeting moment to the extent of his duration; yet this duration was not infinite, 49 and there had been a time which preceded the ineffable generation of the Logos. On this only-begotten Son the Almighty Father had transfused his ample spirit, and impressed the effulgence of his glory. Visible image of invisible perfection, he saw, at an immeasurable distance beneath his feet, the thrones of the brightest archangels; yet he shone only with a reflected light, and, like the sons of the Roman emperors, who were invested with the titles of Cæsar or Augustus, 50 he governed the universe in obedience to the will of his Father and Monarch. II. In
46 The flames of Arianism might burn for some time in secret; but there is reason to believe that they burst out with violence as early as the year 319. Tillemont, Mém. Ecclés. tom. vi. p. 774–780.
47 Quid credidit ? Certe, aut tria nomina audiens tres Deos esse credidit, et idolo. latra effectus est; aut in tribus vocabulis trinominem credens Deum, in Sabellii hæresim incurrit; aut edoctus ab Arianis unum esse verum Deum Patrem, filium et spiritum sanctum credidit creaturas. Aut extra hæc quid credere potuerit nescio. Hieronym. adv. Luciferianos [tom. ii. p. 184, ed. Vallars.]. Jerom reserves for the last the orthodox system, which is more complicated and difficult.
48 As the doctrine of absolute creation from nothing was gradually introduced among the Christians (Beausobre, tom. ii. p. 165-215), the dignity of the workman very naturally rose with that of the work."
49 The metaphysics of Dr. Clarke (Scripture Trinity, p. 276-280) could digest an eternal generation from an infinite cause.
59 This profane and absurd simile is employed by several of the primitive fathers, particularly by Athenagoras, in his Apology to the emperor Marcus and his son; and it is alleged, without censure, by Bull himself. See Defens. Fid. Nicen. sect. iii. c. 5, No. 4.
the second hypothesis, the Logos possessed all the inherent, incommunicable perfections which religion and philosophy appropriate to the Supreme God. Three distinct and infinite mindst or substances, three co-equal and co-eternal beings, composed the Divine Essence ;61 and it would have implied contradiction that any of them should not have existed, or that they should ever cease to exist.52 The advocates of a system which seemed to establish three independent Deities attempted to preserve the unity of the First Cause, so conspicuous in the design and order of the world, by the perpetual concord of their administration and the essential agreement of their will. A faint resemblance of this unity of action may be discovered in the societies of men, and even of animals. The causes which disturb their harmony proceed only from the imperfection and inequality of their faculties ; but the omnipotence which is guided by infinite wisdom and goodness cannot fail of choosing the same means for the accomplishment of the same ends. III.
Sabellianism. Three beings, who, by the self-derived necessity of their existence, possess all the divine attributes in the most perfect degree, who are eternal in duration, infinite in space, and intimately present to each other and to the whole universe, irresistibly force themselves on the astonished mind as one and the same Being, 53 who, in the economy of grace, as well as in that of nature, may manifest himself under different forms, and be considered under different aspects. By this hypothesis a real substantial trinity is refined into a trinity of names and abstract modifications that subsist only in the mind which conceives them. The Logos is no longer a person, but an attribute ; and it is only in a figurative sense that the epithet of Son can be applied to the eternal reason which was with God from the beginning, and hy which, not by whom, all things were made. The incarnation of the Logos is reduced to a mere inspiration of the Divine Wisdom, which filled the soul and directed all the actions of the man Jesus. Thus, after revolving round the theological circle, we are surprised to find that the Sabellian ends where the Ebionite had begun, and that the incomprehensible mystery, which excites our adoration eludes our inquiry. 54
51 See Cudworth's Intellectual System, p. 559, 579. This dangerous hypothesis was countenanced by the two Gregories, of Nyssa and Nazianzen, by Cyril of Alexandria, John of Damascus, &c. See Cudworth, p. 603. Le Clerc, Bibliothèque Universelle, tom. xviii. p. 97–105.
52 Augustin seems to envy the freedom of the philosophers. Liberis verbis loquuntur philosophi .... Nos autem non dicimus duo vel tria principia, duos vel tres Deos. De Civitat. Dei, x. 23.
63 Boethius, who was deeply versed in the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, explains the unity of the Trinity by the indifference of the three persons. See the judicious remarks of Le Clerc, Bibliothèque Choisie, tom. xvi. p. 225, &c.
54 If the Sabellians were startled at this conclusion, they were driven down another
If the bishops of the council of Nice 55 had been permitted to
follow the unbiassed dictates of their conscience, Arius and Council of Nice, his associates could scarcely have flattered themselves with
2.3**. the hopes of obtaining a majority of votes in favour of an hypothesis so directly adverse to the two most popular opinions of the catholic world. The Arians soon perceived the danger of their situation, and prudently assumed those modest virtues which, in the fury of civil and religious dissensions, are seldom practised, or even praised, except by the weaker party. They recommended the exercise of Christian charity and moderation, urged the incomprehensible nature of the controversy, disclaimed the use of any terms or definitions which could not be found in the Scriptures, and offered, by very liberal concessions, to satisfy their adversaries without renouncing the integrity of their own principles. The victorious faction received all their proposals with haughty suspicion, and anxiously sought for some irreconcileable mark of distinction, the rejection of which might involve the Arians in the guilt and consequences of heresy. A letter was publicly read and ignominiously torn, in which The Ho their patron, Eusebius of Nicomedia, ingenuously confessed moousion that the admission of the HomogusIon, or Consubstantial, a word already familiar to the Platonists, was incompatible with the principles of their theological system. The fortunate opportunity was eagerly embraced by the bishops, who governed the resolutions of the synod, and, according to the lively expression of Ambrose, 56 they used the sword, which heresy itself had drawn from the scabbard, to cut off the head of the hated monster. The consubstantiality of the Father and the Son was established by the council of Nice, and has been unanimously received as a fundamental article of the Christian faith by the consent of the Greek, the Latin, the Oriental, and the
precipice into the confession that the Father was born of a virgin, that he had suffered on the cross; and thus deserved the odious epithet of Patri-passians, with which they were branded by their adversaries. See the invectives of Tertullian against Praxeas, and the temperate reflections of Mosheim (p. 423, 681); and Beausobre, tom. i. 1. iii. c. 6, p. 533.
55 The transactions of the council of Nica are related by the ancients, not only in a partial, but in a very imperfect manner. Such a picture as Fra Paolo would have drawn can never be recovered; but such rude sketches as have been traced by the pencil of bigotry, and that of reason, may be seen in Tillemont (Mém. Ecclés. tom. vi. p. 669-759), and in Le Clerc (Bibliothèque Universelle, tom. x. p. 435-454).
56 We are indebted to Ambrose (De Fide, 1. iii. cap. ult.) for the knowledge of this curious anecdote. Hoc verbum posuerunt Patres, quod viderunt adversariis esse formidini; ut tanquam evaginato ab ipsis gladio, ipsum nefandæ caput hæreseos amputarent.
* In the Benedictine edition of Ambrose sariis esse formidini; ut tanquam evaginato (c. 15, not cap. ult.) the passage runs ab ipsis gladio ipsorum nefandæ caput thus:-“Hoc verbum in tractatu Fidei po- bæreseos amputarent."-S. suerunt Patres, quia id viderunt adver