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compare the emission of the Logos from God to the emission of reason from man, in discoursing with one another?
You say, for it is you that say this, (I have met with nothing so very absurd in Tertullian,) that “the Divine nature admitting neither quality nor accident, every thing belonging to it must be substance.” The Divine Being, then, has no properties, no attribules, no perfections at all, which is, in fact, denying his very being; for what is being, without properties .? Pray, Sir, has the Son or the Holy Spirit any attri. butes ? In all my reading I do not remember to have met with any absurdity equal to this, except your own peculiar conceit, that “one mind can beget another by the contem. plation of its perfections,”* (now called substances,) a notion which you ascribe to all the fathers, though I will venture to say, it is not to be found in any of them. Strange enough, to be sure, are some of their conceits, but not quite so strange and absurd as this. There is, as you somewhere justly observe, a progress in absurdity as well as in truth.
Lactantius, you acknowledge, expresses himself clearly enough according to my idea of this subject, but you dispose of his orthodoxy as you did of Origen's veracity. You boldly deny it. This, indeed, is a very compendious method of answering me. But, Sir, the question is not whom you are now pleased to call orthodox, but who was deemed to be so in the age in which he lived. Now I challenge you to prove that any writer of the age of Lactantius considered him as heterodox. Indeed, it was very unlikely that the man who was chosen tutor to a son of Constantine should have been a person of that class.
In order to undervalue this excellent writer, you say, that “he ascribes a beginning to the existence of the eternal Father. No wonder, then,” you add, “ that he should ascribe a beginning to the Son's existence. You are welcome, Sir,” you say, “ to any advantage you may be able to derive from the authority of such a writer.”+ Lactantius, however, candidly construed, may perhaps be said only to have used an improper expression, namely, that God made himself, meaning no more than we do when we say that God is self-eristent, which, in fact, implies the very contrary of what ascribe to him. He advances this in proof of his maxim, - Nec enim potest, ut ab ullo esse generatus
, qui ipse universa generavit ;" he cannot be created of any himself created all things, which clearly implies that he
* See supra, pp. 93, 94.
† Letters, p. 129. (P.) Tracts, p. 299.
could not be created at all. For, though the thing made had a beginning, the maker could have none ; and who was the maker in this case but God himself? The term selferistent is, in fact, (as it will appear, if it be analysed,) equally improper; for it implies that God is the cause of his own existence. For this reason, some who wish to speak with exactness, avoid that term, and rather say, that God is eternal ; but they do not tax those who use the word self-existent with really believing that God had a beginning.
Whatever mistakes Lactantius may be supposed to have made as a metaphysician, it does not appear that in his own time he was charged with any; and they might have been as little noticed still, if he had been a sound divine; and though you suppose that he ascribed a beginning to the eternal Father, yet, if you had found that from the moment of the Father's existence, that of the Son had, in his idea, commenced also, you would perhaps have contented yourself with smiling at his notion, or at least have abated of the severity of your censure.
Constantine, whom you quote as in your favour, is directly against you. Taking your own words, he says, the Son
was begotten, or rather he bimself came forth, (being even ever in the Father,) for the setting in order of the things which were made by him. Here,” you say, expounds generation by coming forth.”* But then, Sir, he does not say that this generation, or coming forth, was the same thing with the setting in order the things that were made by him ; but it was evidently something that took place previous to this setting in order, and with a view to it ; so that this mysterious generation preceded what you quaintly call the projection of energies, and was not the same thing with it.
You still likewise confound the doctrine of Arius with that of the “ personification of the Logos,”+ than which no two things were more different, having always been opposed to each other, as you must have known, had you been so well read, as you pretend to be, in the ancient ecclesiastical writers, since a great proportion of their works is occupied in the discussion of this subject. The Arians maintained that Christ was a being created out of nothing, as other creatures were, notwithstanding the vastness of his powers, which were equal to the creation of all other things, • Letters, p. 127. (P.) Tracts, p. 236. + Letters, p. 116. (P) Tracts, p. 228.
visible and invisible ; and, not believing an eternal creation, they likewise said that there was a time wlien the Son did not exist. Both these propositions were denied by the orthodox of that age, who maintained that Christ was not made out of nothing, for that he was the Logos, the wisdom, the power, &c. of the Father, and that he had always existed in the Father, as reason does in man, though his personality was by some supposed to have commenced in time.
You must give me leave to say you are but little acquainted with the principles even of Platonism, and especially those of the later Platonists, from whom the Christian fathers more immediately derived their notions, if you are not able to enter into this idea.
This personification, or the commencement of an actual personality of what was an attribute of God, is a strange idea ; but, strange as it is, it nevertheless actually took place in the minds of thousands, and was in truth all the orthodoxy of the earlier ages. This incipient orthodoxy grew immediately out of Platonism, and is certainly absurd enough. The orthodoxy of the later ages and of the present grew out of that, and is infinitely more absurd. Their doctrine was mere nonsense, yours the plainest of all contradictions, as I shall clearly shew in my next letter. - What the difference may be," you say,
" between a making out of nothing, and the conversion of a meer attribute into a substance, or how a person made out of an attribute may differ from a person made out of nothing, I would rather, Sir, that you than I should take the trouble to explain.”* I have explained it as well as such an absurdity can be explained, but it behoves you to explain it much more than it does me; for, absurd as the notion is, it certainly prepared the way for the still more absurd notion of three equal divine persons in one Godhead.
I am, &c.
REV. Sir, I own I was particularly desirous of hearing what you could possibly say on the subject of my seventh letter, in which I advanced some general considerations relating to the. doctrine of the Trinity; but, unfortunately, you content
• Letters, p. 118. (P.) Tracts, p. 226.
yourself with giving “ only a general reply to some parts of that letter. A particular answer," you say, “ to the several objections which it contains would lead me into metaphysical disquisitions; which I wish to decline, because in that subject I foresee that we should want common principles and a common language.”*
Now I make no doubt, Sir, but that if it had been possible for you to have given any plausible answer to the difficulties started in that letter, you would have found some principle, cominon or uncommon, on which to found it, and some language also, which might have been intelligible to me and your readers. But as you profess that you do not expect to convince me, it would have been quite sufficient for your purpose if you could have found common principles and common language for others.
I am the more concerned at your silence, as I was in hopes of having some further account of your own peculiar notion of the necessary origin of the Son " from the Father's contemplation of his own perfections ;"'+ but to my great mortification I find not one more gleam of light on this curious subject. You said that this doctrine was agreeable to the notions of all the fathers, as well as of the sacred writers, and I challenged you to produce any authority for it, except what exists in your own imagination. In my opinion, nothing can be conceived more absurd than the idea of the necessary production of an intelligent being, possessed of actual, substantial personality, equal in all respects to the original intelligent being, from the mere selfcontemplation of that original being's perfections. I said that nothing in the Jewish Cabbala could be more absurd. I You intimate that I may know but little of “ the Jewish Cabbala ;'S but for my purpose it is quite enough, that it is a known proverbial expression to denote the extreme of absurdity; and if so, whatever the Jewish Cabbala may really be, (of which I may perhaps know as much as yourself, and of which we may each of us soon learn enough from Basnage,) the phrase could not be misapplied. ||
* Letters, p. 136. (P.) Tracts, p. 247. + See supra, pp. 93, 94, 228. 1 Supra, p. 95. s Letters, p. 149. (P.) Tracts, p. 263. li “ The learned Prelate, in the fourth Disquisition annexed to the edition of his Tracts in controversy with Dr. Priestley, has laboured much, not indeed to defend the mysterious doctrine of the Son’s generation from the Father's contemplation of his own perfections, but to prove that he was not himself the inventor of the sublime mystery. In his appeal to the writings of the fathers the Bishop totally fails : nor does he succeed much better in those of the schoolmen. The first plain example of this curious doctrine is found in a treatise published under the sanction of the Council of Trent,' entitled Catechismus ad Parochos,' in which • the true believer' is exhorted • to pray that he may be thought worthy to be allowed to see what that wonderful fecundity of God the Father is, that, contemplating and ererting his intelligence upon himself, he should beget a son, the exact counterpart and equal of himself.' Melancthon appears to have entertained the same extravagant notion, and Zanchius reproves it." At any rate it is sufficiently apparent that the honour of the invention does not appertain to Bishop Horsley." Mr. Belsham's Note. See Bishop Horsley's Tracts, pp. 467_476.
I find, however, a few other things on the subject of that letter which are curious enough ; so that, for the amusement, if not the instruction of my readers, I shall make some observations on them.
1. In the first place, I still think that you yourself are not perfectly orthodox, for besides your virtual disapprobation of “the damnatory clause” in the Athanasian Creed, * you allow a real superiority in the Father.
• If,” you say, “ from such expressions” as my Father is greater than I,
you would be content to infer that the Almighty Father is indeed the fountain and the center of divinity, and that the equality of godhead is to be understood with some mysterious subordination of the Son to the Father; you would have the concurrence of the ancient fathers, and of many advocates of the true faith in all ages.”+ But give me leave to say, that any proper subordination, mysterious or not mysterious, implies inferiority, and is an infringement of the doctrine of the perfect equality of the three persons; so that it cannot be, as your Creed says, none is afore or after another.
"I maintain the equality of the three persons in all the attributes of the Divine nature. I maintain their equality in rank and authority, with respect to all created things, whatever relations or differences may subsist between themselves.” But their equal superiority to all created beings is no proof at all of any proper equality among themselves. If so, all men would be equal among themselves, because all men are superior to brutes.
Your notion of a real subordination, which must imply inferiority, and indeed imperfection, in any of the persons in the Trinity, is certainly not the orthodoxy that took place after the council of Nice, and that of the Athanasian Creed.
II, I now come to something still more extraordinary. “ I maintain,” you say, “ that the three persons are one being—I maintain that each person by bimself is God; because each possesses fully every attribute of the Divine nature."'S Then, Sir, I assert, that you maintain as palpa
Letters, p. 165. (P.) Tracts, p. 284. † Letters, p. 145. (P.) Tracts, p. 258.
Letters, p. 149. (P.) Tracts, p. 263. § Letters, p. 148. (P.) Tracts, p. 262.