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That the Ebionites comprised all the Jewish Christians in the time of Origen, is evident from the passage which you yourself quote from him: “—and when you consider what belief they of the Jewish race, who believe in Jesus, entertain of the Redeemer, some thinking that he took his being from Mary and Joseph, some, indeed, from Mary only and the Divine Spirit, but still without any belief of his divinity, you will understand,” &c.* Now I do not at all see how, allowing the object of Origen, in the place in which this passage is introduced, to be the spiritualizing of a plain story, you can be authorized to explain this otherwise than it is literally expressed. Whatever the discourse be, this is an incidental mention of a real fact in the course of it; and such is often the clearest of all evidences.
As to that reference to Origen which you say you are not able to trace, t it is exactly as I have made it, I in my edition of his works in Latin; and, in my opinion, abundantly answers the purpose for which it was adduced, as he there speaks of all the Jews who believed in Jesus, as thinking him to be either the son of Joseph and Mary, or of Mary and the Holy Spirit, which certainly comprises the opinion which had been thought to be peculiar to the Nazarenes ; so that it is impossible that Origen should have imagined that the Nazarenes held an opinion concerning Christ that was not also held by some of the Ebionites. Moreover, as he is here speaking of the Jewish Christians in general, without making any exception, it is natural to infer, that he had never heard of any Jewish Christians besides those whom he elsewhere calls Ebionites, of the two sorts particularly specified by him ; so that this passage is in effect the same with that which you have quoted, and proves more than I there quoted it for.
I have since procured Huetius's edition of Origen's Commentaries on the Scriptures, and find that the passage which you have quoted exactly corresponds to that which I had made use of. But the original Greek is more expressly to my purpose than the Latin.
* Charge, p. 76. (P.) Tracts, p. 78. + Charge, p. 75. (P.) Tracts, p. 77.
| See supra, p. 10. $ The old Latin Version : “ Et cum videris eos qui ex Judæis crediderunt in Jesum, aliquando quidem ex Maria et Joseph eum esse putantes; aliquando autem de sola Maria et spiritu sancto, videbis,” &c. In Matt. Tract. 13. Opera Latine, II. p. 88.
The Greek of Huelius's Edition : Και επαν ιδης των απο Ιουδαιων πιστευοντων εις τον Ιησουν την περι του σωτηρος πιστιν, ότε μεν εκ Μαριας και του Ιωσηφ οιoμενων αυτον ειναι,
In a passage not far distant from this, Origen considers the Ebionites in general as not believing the miraculous conception, while the Gentile Christians in general, though with some exceptions, believed that doctrine. “ By the men," he says, “who blamed the blind man, who represents the Ebionites, (unbelievers in the miraculous conception,) we may understand the Gentiles, who, with few exceptions, think that Christ was born of the Virgin only.”*
“ That the Jewish converts were remarkably prone to the Ebionæan heresy, from which the Gentile churches in general were pure, is the most,” you say, “ that can be concluded from this passage, strengthened as it might be with another, somewhat to the same purpose, in the Commentaries upon St. John's Gospel. But what if it were proved that the whole sect of the Nazarenes was absorbed in the Ebionæan heresy, in the days of Origen? What evidence would that afford of the identity of the Nazarenes and the Ebionites in earlier times? And even that identity, if it were proved, what evidence would it afford, that the church of Jerusalem had been originally Unitarian under her first bishops of the circumcision?” +
I answer, that if the Jewish Christians were universally Ebionites in the time of Origen, the probability is, that they were very generally so in the time of the apostles ; and, that their heresy, as it is called, did exist in the time of the apostles, is abundantly evident. Whole bodies of men do not very soon change their opinions. And if, as you allow, the Jewish Christians were distinguished by the name of Nazarenes, (whom I think I have proved to be the same with the Ebionites, who all believed Christ to be a mere man,) from the time that they were settled in the country beyond the sea of Galilee, you carry the opinions of the Ebionites, as universally held by the Jewish Christians, to the very age of the apostles ; for they retired into that country on the approach of the Jewish war, about which time the apostles went off the stage.
Since all the Jewish Christians were called Nazarenes,
οτε δε εκ Μαριας μεν μονης και του θειου πνευματος, ου μην και μετα της περι αυτου Jeongyas, ofei, &c. Conment. in Matt. ed. Hnetii, I. p. 427, E. (P.) Postscript to Letters, 1783.
• Ζητω ει δυνασαι πολλους μεν ειπειν επιτιμωντας ένα σιωπηση των Εβιωναιο και πτωχενοντι περι την εις Ιησουν πιστιν, τους απο των εθνων, οι τινες παρ' ολιγους άπαντες πεπιστευκασιν αυτον εκ παρθενου γεγενησθαι. . Comment, in Matt. ed. Huetii, I. p. 428, C. (P.) Postscript to Letters, 1783.
† Charge, p. 77. (P.) Tracts, p. 79.
or Ebionites, and all the writers that mention them speak of the doctrine of those sects in general, and not those of their own time in particular, as being that Christ was a mere man; the natural inference is, that those sects, or the Jewish Christians, did, in all times, after they became so distinguished, (which is allowed to have been just before or presently after the destruction of Jerusalem,) hold that doctrine. And supposing this to have been the case, is it not almost certain, that the apostles themselves must have taught it? Can it be supposed that the whole Jewish church should have abandoned the doctrine of the divinity of Christ within so few years after the death of the apostles, if they had ever received it from them? As far as I yet see, Jewish Christians, who were not Nazarenes or Ebionites, or Nazarenes who held any other doctrine concerning Christ than that he was a mere man, are unknown in history, and have no existence but in imagination.
That those who were called Nazarenes were as far from thinking Christ to be God as the Ebionites, is evident from the most unexceptionable evidence. Among others is the testimony of Theodoret, though, not having the original, I am obliged to quote it at second hand. This I shall do from Suicer's Thesaurus, under the article Ebion. He
says, -6 The Nazarenes are Jews, who respect Christ as a righteous man.
And Theodoret lived in Syria, where he had the best opportunity of being acquainted with the state of the Jewish churches,
It is rather extraordinary that such a point should now be made of finding some difference of importance between the Nazarenes and the Ebionites, when no critic, I believe, of any name in the last age pretended to find any. The learned Jeremiah Jones, after disposing in opposite columns all that he could collect concerning them both, from the best authorities, concludes with saying, “ It is plain there was a very great agreement between these two ancient sects; and though they went under different names, yet they seem only to differ in this, that the Ebionites had made some addition to the old Nazarene system.
For Origen tells us they were called Ebionites, who from among the Jews owned Jesus to be the Christ.”+ The running title of this chapter is, The Nazarenes and Ebionites the same.
* Οι δε Ναζωραιοι Ιουδαιοι εισι τον Χριστον τιμωντες ως ανθρωπον δικαιον. (Ρ.) † Jones on the Canon, 1726, 1, p. 386. (P.)
As to the general testimony of Eusebius and other writers, themselves believers in the divinity of Christ, that the church of Jerusalem towards the close of the apostolic age, (for it is not pretended that the apostles taught that doctrine clearly, and therefore not with effect, at the opening of their commission,) was orthodox in their sense of the word, it is not to be regarded, unless they bring some sufficient proof of their assertion. They were, no doubt, willing to have it thought so; and, without considering it very particularly, might presume that it was so: but the facts which they themselves record, and the account which they give of the conduct of the apostles in divulging this doctrine to the Jews, make it highly improbable that the case should have been as in general terms they assert.
They furnish as particular evidence against their own general testimony, as we can expect to find at this distance of time, supposing the fact to have been the reverse of what they assert; and the state of things in after times, and even in their own, was such as can never be accounted for, agreeably to the known principles of human nature, on the supposition that it was originally such as they represent it to be.
The general prevalence of the Unitarian doctrine among the common people in the Gentile world, and the universal prevalence of it among the Jews, from the time that they were distinguished by the name of Ebionites, or Nazarenes, (which was immediately after the age of the apostles,) is totally inconsistent with the idea of the divinity of Christ having been the universal or the general opinion in the time of the apostles.
I am, &c.
LETTER III. That the Primitive Unitarians were not considered as Heretics.
Dear Sir, Among the “ extravagant assertions," as you call them, of Daniel Zwicker, and which you say were adopted by Episcopius, you mention, “ that the opinion of the meer humanity of Christ had prevailed very generally in the first ages ; and was never deemed heretical by the fathers of the orthodox persuasion, at least not in such degree as to exclude them from the communion of the church.” say that Episcopius, from his “ charitable temper, -gave
easy credit to Unitarian writers, when they represented the differences of opinion in the early churches, as much greater than ever really obtained, and the tenderness for sectaries as more than was ever practised.”*
If I was disposed to copy your usual language to me upon this occasion, I might have full scope; as what you now advance is the very reverse of the fact; and how you came to misapprehend so plain a case, concerning which, I believe, no writers of ecclesiastical history ever differed, I do not take upon me to say, but leave others to judge. That there were as proper Unitarians in the very age of the apostles, as any who are so termed at this day, (myself by no means excepted,) and differing as much from what is now called the orthodox faith, I will venture to say was never questioned; and that these ancient Unitarians were not then expelled from Christian societies as heretics, is, I believe, as generally allowed. It was, as you say, acknowledged by Episcopius the Arian, t and it is likewise allowed by Mosheim the Trinitarian, who says,
" However ready many may have been to embrace this erroneous doctrine, it does not appear that this sect formed to themselves a separate place of worship, or removed themselves from the ordinary assemblies of Christians.” I But does it not also follow from the same fact, that these Unitarians were not expelled from Christian societies by others, as they certainly would have been if they had been considered as heretics?
At the same time, the Gnostics were in a very different predicament, and had been so from the beginning. Mosheim says, “ From several passages of the Sacred Writings it evidently appears, that, even in the first century, the general meeting of Christians was deserted, and separate assemblies formed, in several places, by persons infected with the Gnostic heresy; though,” he adds, “ this pernicious sect was not conspicuous for its number or its reputation before the time of Adrian.”'
“ Every heretic,” says Jerome, “ is born in the church, but is cast out of the church, and fights against the church.”|| Austin says, " As soon as any heresy existed,
* Charge, p. 7. (P.) Tracts, pp. 7, 8. + Dr. Horsley says,
No Socinian." See supra, p. 16. | Hist. Eccles. I. p. 191. (P.) Cent. ii. Pt. ii. Ch. v. Sect. xx.
Hist. Eccles. I. p. 108. (P.) Cent. i. Pt. ii. Ch. v. Sect. iii. Il “ Omnis enim hæreticus nascitur in ecclesia, sed de ecclesia projicitur, et contendit et pugnat contra parentem." In Jerem. xxii., IV. p. 277. (P.)