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in a church universally Trinitarian, must necessarily have given greater alarm, and have roused the orthodox to exert more vigorous measures than the same doctrine could do in the time of Calvin, when it was far from being novel; and yet he, though exposed to persecution himself, thought it to be a crime for which burning alive was no more than an adequate punishment; and almost all the Christian world justified his using that rigour with respect to Servetus. Now, since the minds of men are in all ages similarly affected in similar circumstances, we may conclude, that the Unitarian doctrine, which was treated with so much respect when it was first mentioned, was in a very different predicament then, from what it was at the time of the Reformation. The difference of majority and minority, and nothing else, can account for this difference of treatment.
You will say, if the great majority of Christians in early times were Unitarians, why did not they excommunicate the innovating Trinitarians? I answer, that the doctrine of the Trinity was not, in its origin, such as could give much alarm, as I have explained in my Reply to the Monthly Reviewers,* and before it became very formidable there was a great majority of the learned and philosophizing clergy on its side. However, that it did give very great alarm, as it began to unfold itself, I have brought undeniable evidence.
What words, in any language, can express more alarm or dislike than expavescere and scandalizare, by which Ter. tullian describes their feelings on this subject? And Origen has some equally strong in Greek, as tapas reiv, &c. Had the Unitarians in those times been writers, we should probably have heard more of their complaints. At present we know nothing of them besides what we are able to collect concerning them from their adversaries, who thought it necessary to make frequent apologies to them.
On the other hand, there is indisputable evidence that the Unitarian doctrine, and even in its most obnoxious form, existed in the very time of the apostles. The Jewish Christians in general, not only thought that Christ was a mere man, but even that he was the son of Joseph ; and the gradation that you speak of, from the doctrine of the Ebionites in the time of St. John, to that of Theodotus in the time of Victor, has no existence but in your own single imagination. And yet these Unitarians were respected, and not expelled from Christian societies, by the orthodox
• See supra, p. 14.
of that age. Explain this fact, in consistence with their not being the majority of Christians, if you can.
At this day, as the Unitarian doctrine happily gains ground among Christians, the horror with which it has been considered is manifestly very much abated. Your treatment of me, and of all who hold the same opinion, is rather extraordinary, considering the times in which we live; but it is mild and moderate compared with the usual treatment of the same doctrine, even in this tolerant country, a hundred, or even fifty years ago.
At the time of the Revolution it was made blasphemy by act of parliament openly to avow what I now openly defend, and was punishable with confiscation of goods and imprisonment for life, if persisted in; and the law still (1783) remains unrepealed.+ But it is seen to be so arbitrary and unjust, (as directed against those who conscientiously believe in one God only, without acknowledging three persons to be that one God,) that no one dares to put it in execution ; and the state, I am confident, only waits for that application which, I trust, will be made to relieve them, and to wipe off such a disgrace from our statutes.
LETTER IV. Of the Inference that may be drawn from the Passage of
Athanasius, concerning the Opinion of the early Jewish Christians relating to Christ.
DEAR SIR, As one argument that the primitive church of Jerusalem “ was properly Unitarian, maintaining the simple humanity of Christ," I observed, that “ Athanasius himself was so far from denying, that he endeavours to account for it by saying that all the Jews were so firinly persuaded that their Messiah was to be nothing more than a man like themselves, that the apostles were obliged to use great caution in divulging the doctrine of the proper divinity of Christ.'”.
* “ July 5, 1698, King William gave the royal assent to an act for the more effectually suppressing blasphemy and profaneness.” On February 17, preceding, there had been “ An Address of the Commons for a Proclamation against Immorality and Profaneness, and for suppressing all pernicious Books and Pamphlets containing Doctrines against the Holy Trinity, and other fundamental Articles of Faith, and for punishing the Authors and Publishers; aud a Proclamation was issued accord. ingly the 24th Instant." Salmon's Chron. Hist. 1747, pp. 291, 292, 293. See Vol. V. p. 439; X. p. 488; XV. p. 391, Note ..
† “ Happily,” says Mr. Belsham, “ we live in better times; and have been witnesses to the repeal of those barbarous laws which were a disgrace to the statute book; which inflicted pains and penalties horrible to think of upon the conscientious worshippers of the one God, the Father ouly; which repeal was sanctioned by the uoanimous decision of the legislature, with the approbation of all good men, and without a single dissentient voice from the right reverend Bench. Though it is equally wonderful and lamentable to think that one of the learned prelates (Dr. Burgess] has since disgraced himself and his order, by calling upon the legislature to re-enact these inhuman statutes." Preface to Ďr. Priestley's Tracts, 1815, pp. vii. viii. See Vol. X. p. 495; XV. p. 391, Note *
This I maintain to be a short but true state of the case. Athanasius both expressly allowed that the Jewish Christians were at first of the opinion that Christ was no more than a man; and he accounts for the apostles conniving at it, without saying how long that prudent connivance continued. In my Appendix you will find a somewhat fuller state of the argument.t I shall now distinctly consider all that you have advanced to invalidate the inference that I have made from this remarkable passage. I shall afterwards shew that it was not Athanasius only, but Chrysostom also, and, as he says, the ancients, and the most distinguished fathers of the church, who gave the same representation of the state of things in the apostolical age.
You say, that Athanasius is here speaking “ of the unbelieving Jews.”The expression is oi Tote Icowiol, the Jews of that age; which includes both the believing and unbelieving Jews.
Had he been speaking of the Jews of his own time, it would, I own, have been probable that he meant the unbelieving Jews; but speaking, as he does, of the Jews at the very first promulgation of Christianity among them, it is most natural to suppose that he meant all the Jews. Paul, long after his conversion to Christianity, called himself a Jew. However, it will be sufficiently evident from the whole tenor of the passage, that he must have meant the believing Jews principally, and in some respects the believing Jews only, exclusive of the unbelieving ones.
And in this construction of the passage I am by no means singular, but have the sanction of Trinitarians themselves.
But admitting that the Jews here meant were unbelieving Jews, they were such as the apostles wished to convert to Christianity, and many of them soon became Christians. How the apostles conducted themselves with respect to these men, first'unbelieving and then believing Jews, Athanasius thus informs us. Our readers may judge of the fidelity of the translation by consulting the original in the margin; and as I only abridged the passage before, I shall now give a larger portion of it at full length, for the whole is much too large to transcribe. “ Will they affirm that the apostles held the doctrine of Arius, because they say that Christ was a man of Nazareth, and suffered on the cross ? Or, because they used these words, were the apostles of opinion that Christ was only a man, and nothing else? By no means: this is not to be imagined. But this they did as wise master builders and stewards of the mysteries of God; and they had this specious pretence for it. For the Jews of that age, being deceived themselves, and having deceived the Gentiles, thought that Christ was a mere man, only that he came of the seed of David, resembling other descendants of David, and did not believe either that he was God, or that the word was made flesh. On this account the blessed apostles, with great prudence, in the first place, taught what related to the humanity of our Saviour to the Jews; that having fully persuaded them, from his miraculous works, that Christ was come, they might afterwards bring them to the belief of his divinity, shewing that his works were not those of a man, but of God. For example, Peter having said that Christ was a man who had suffered, immediately added, he is the prince of life. In the gospel he confesses, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God; and in his epistle he calls him the bishop of souls.”*
* Vol. V. p. 19.
+ See Appendix, No. I. Par. 6. | Charge, p, 22. (P.) Tracts, p. 21.
Here, I think, are sufficient marks of great caution, and of the apostles leading their converts to the knowledge of the divinity of Christ, by very distant and uncertain inferences indeed, such as Jews, so previously persuaded as he represents them to have been, of the simple humanity of their Messiah, would not very readily understand.
Now, if this caution was requisite in the first instance, and with respect to the first converts that the apostles made,
Ουδεν γαρ αυτοις ατολμητον, ότι και αυτοι οι αποστολοι τα Αρειο εφρoνey" ανθρωπον γαρ αυτον απο Ναζαρετ, και παθητον τον Χριςον απαγγελλεσιν, εκείνων τοινυν τοιαυτα φανταζομενων, αρ' επειδη τους σημασι τετοις εχρησαντο, μονον ανθρωπον ηδεισαν τον Χριςον οι αποςτολοι, και πλεον ουδεν; μη γενοιτο ουκ εςιν ουδε εις νον ποτε τοτο λαβειν' αλλα και τατο ως αρχιτεκτονες σοφοι, και οικονομοι μυςηριων Θεο σεποιήκασι και την αιτιαν εχεσιν ευλογον επειδη γαρ οι τοτε Ιεδαιοι πλανηθεντες τε και πλανησαντες Ελληνας, ενομιζον τον Χριςον ψιλον ανθρωπον, μονον εκ σπερματος Δαβιδ ερχεσθαι, καθ' ομοιοτητα των εκ τε Δαβίδ αλλων γενομενων τεκνων ουτε δε Θεον αυτον, ουδε οτι λογος σαρξ εγενετο επιςευον· τοτε ένεκα, μετα πολλης της συνεσεως οι μακαριοι απος ολοι τα ανθρωπινα τη σωτηρος εξηγεντo πρωτον τοις Ιεδαιοις, ίν' ολως σεισαντες αυτες, εκ των φαινομενων και γενομενων σημείων, εληλυθεκαι τον Χριςον, λοιπον και εις την περι της θεοτητος αυτο σιςιν αυτες αναγαγωσι, δεικνυντες ότι τα γενομενα εργα ουκ εςιν ανθρωπου, αλλα Θερ' αμελει Πετρος ο λεγων ανδρα παθητον τον Χριςον, ευθυς συνηπτεν Ουτος αρχηγος της ζωης εςιν, &c. &c. De Sententia Dionysii, Athanasii Opera, I. pp. 553, 554, ed. Colon. 1686. (P.) See supra, Pp. 11, 17.
it was equally requisite with respect to the rest, at least for the sake of others who were not yet converted; unless the first should have been enjoined secrecy on that head. For whenever it had been known that the apostles were preaching not such a Messiah as they expected, viz. a man like themselves, but the eternal God, the difference was so great, that a general alarm must have been spread, and the conversion of the rest of the Jews (to a doctrine which must have appeared so highly improbable to them) must have been impeded. We may, therefore, presume that the apostles must have connived at this state of ignorance, concerning the divinity of Christ, in their Jewish converts, till there was little hope of making any further converts among the Jews, and till the gospel began to be preached to the Gentiles.
Indeed, this must have been the case, according to Athanasius's own account; for he says that these Jews, being in error themselves, led the Gentiles into the same error; for your notion, that by Gentiles our author here meant proselytes of the gate, is altogether arbitrary and improbable. Nay, the very existence of these proselytes of the gate, you must know, has been questioned, and I think fully disproved by Dr. Lardner and others. Besides, it is not to be supposed that the doctrine of a Messiah could have been very interesting to any besides native Jews, or, at the most, those that were complete proselytes; whereas to the Gentile Christians it was a matter of the greatest
By these Gentiles, therefore, I conclude that Athanasius must have meant Christian Gentiles, and consequently that by the Jews who led them into that mistake, he meant the believing and not the unbelieving Jews. The learned Beausobre, a Trinitarian, and therefore an unexceptionable judge in this case, quoting this very passage, does not hesitate to pronounce that they were believing Jews who were intended by the writer.
« Ces Juifs," he says, “ ne sont pas les Juifs incrédules, mais ceux qui faisoient profession du Christianisme.
What I have respect to in this passage, is the obvious general tenor and spirit of it, and not particular words or phrases; or I might observe, that the verbs in that part of the passage which mentions Christ being come of the seed of David, and the word being made flesh, are not in the future tense, and therefore do not naturally refer to the Messiah in
• Histoire de Manichéisme, 1794, II. p. 517. (P.)