Слике страница
PDF
ePub

general, who was to come, but to a person who was actually come, that is, to Jesus Christ in particular. The Latin translator of Athanasius, a Catholic, and certainly no Unitarian, had so little suspicion of any other meaning, that he renders toy Xpisov in this place by Jesum ; so that I am far from being singular, or particularly biassed by my own opinions, in my construction of this passage.

Supposing, however, not only the proselytes of the gate, but the whole body of the Gentiles, (little as they were concerned in the question,) to have been previously taught by the Jews that their Messiah, whenever he should come, would be nothing inore than a man; if this was an opinion that they were as fully persuaded of as Athanasius represents the Jews, their teachers, to have been, the same caution must have been as necessary with respect to them as with respect to the Jews themselves, and for the same reason.

Athanasius must, therefore, be understood to say, that the Jewish converts, while (through the caution of the apostles) they were ignorant of the divinity of Christ, preached the gospel in that state to the Gentiles. And as he speaks of Gentiles in general, and without any respect to time, and also of their being actually brought over to that belief, it is impossible not to understand him of this caution being continued till the gospel had been fully preached to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Besides, one of the instances that Athanasius here gives of the preaching of the simple humanity of Christ, is taken from the discourse of the apostle Paul at Athens, which was about the year 53 after Christ; and indeed at this time the gospel had not been preached to any great extent among the Gentiles; for it was on this very journey that this apostle first preached the gospel in Macedonia and Greece.

If, according to Athanasius, the apostolical reserve with respect to the doctrine of the divinity of Christ continued till this time, (and he says nothing concerning the termination of it) we may presume that this great doctrine, supposing it to have been known to the apostles, had not been publicly taught by them till very near the time of their dispersion and death ; and then I think it must have come too late even from them; for it appears from the book of Acts, that their mere authority was not sufficient to overbear the prejudices of their countrymen.

At least such an extraordinary communication of a doctrine of which they had no conception must have occasioned such an alarm and You say,

consternation as we must have found some traces of in the history of the Acts of the Apostles. It could not have been received without hesitation and debate.

If we can suppose that the apostles, some time before their death, did communicate this great and unexpected doctrine, the effects of such communication must have been very transient; for, presently after the death of the apostles, we find all the Jewish Christians distinguished by the name of Nazarenes or Ebionites, and no trace of the doctrine of the divinity of Christ among them. If you can produce any evidence to the contrary, I hope you will do it. It certainly behoves you to do it if you can; for without this you will hardly make it appear probable that the apostles ever communicated such a doctrine at all.

“ With what readiness the apostles led their catechumens on, from the simplest principles to the highest mysteries ; of this consummate ability of the apostles, in the capacity of teachers, Athanasius speaks with due commendation. Their caution he never mentions. On the contrary, the rapid progress of their instruction, how they passed at once from the detail of our Lord's life on earth, to the mystery of his Godhead, is.one principal branch of his encomium. I wish that Dr. Priestley had produced the passage in which he thinks the apostles are taxed with caution.'

I have now produced the passage, and have pointed out a word, viz. OUVEGIS, which, in the conuexion in which it stands, can bear no other sense than caution, and great caution (META Tonans OUVET EWS); and I have likewise shewn, from the whole tenor of the discourse, that Athanasius could have intended nothing else than to describe their prudence or extreme caution, and to account for it. He evidently does not represent them as deferring the communication of the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, on account of its being more conveniently taught afterwards, as part of a system of faith, but only lest it should have given offence to the Jews. If this skill or prudence, in these circumstances, be not the same thing with caution, I do not know what is meant by caution.

On the other hand, I find no trace of rapidity in this account of the apostles' conduct. All that approaches to it is, that, immediately after any mention of the humanity

» *

* Charge, p. 25. (P.) Tracts, pp. 24, 25.

of Christ, (which he speaks of as necessary on account of the Jewish prejudices,) he says, the apostles subjoin some expression which might have led their hearers to the knowledge of his divinity; but the instances he produces are such as plainly confute any pretensions of their being a distinct and full declaration of that doctrine.

The first instance he gives us is from the speech of Peter to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, in which he says, Acts ii. 22, “ Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.” In this Athanasius acknowledges that Peter preached the proper humanity of Christ, but says that immediately afterwards (referring to his discourse on the cure of the lame man in the Temple) he called him the prince of life, ( Acts iii. 15,)“ And killed the prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead."

Had the apostle meant that his audience should have understood him as referring to the divinity of Christ by that expression, his prudence must have lasted but a very short time in deed; probably not many days. If, therefore, his intention was, as Athanasius represents it, to preach the doctrine of the humanity of Christ in the first place, and not to divulge the doctrine of his divinity till they were firmly persuaded of his Messiahship, he could not mean to allude to his divinity in this speech, which was addressed not to the believing but to the unbelieving Jews. At least he could only have thought of doing it in such a manner as that his hearers might afterwards infer the doctrine from it; and it must have required great ingenuity, and even a strong prepossession in favour of the divinity of Christ, (the reverse of which this writer acknowledges,) to imagine that this expression of prince of life, which so easily admits of another interpretation, had any such reference. Moreover, in all the instances which Athanasius produces concerning the conduct of the apostles in this respect, from the book of Acts, he does not pretend to find one in which the divinity of Christ is distinctly preached, though he quotes four passages in which his humanity is plainly spoken of.

When all these things are considered, viz. that Athanasius acknowledged that it required great caution in the apostles to divulge the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, and that the gospel was preached with success among the Gentiles while the Jews were ignorant of it; it can hardly be doubted but that he must himself have considered the Christian church in general as Unitarian in the time of the apostles, at least till near the time of their dispersion and death.*

With respect to Athanasius's declared opinion on this subject, you say,

“ Now in this piece upon the orthodoxy of Dionysius, Athanasius no where, I confess, denies that the primitive church of Jerusalem was Unitarian. Nor, on the other hand, do I recollect that Dr. Priestley hath asserted it in any part of his History of Electricity.”Ť Whether in my History of Electricity, or in this piece of Athanasius, in which he gives a large account of the conduct of the apostles with respect to their preaching the divinity of Christ, an account of the actual effect of such preaching might be more naturally expected, I leave to our readers. I should have thought that, if Athanasius could have added that, notwithstanding their caution in preaching this extraordinary doctrine, against which he acknowledges the Jews had the strongest prejudices, they nevertheless did preach it with effect, and that it was the general belief of the Jewish Christians in their time, he would not have thought it at all foreign to his purpose. It would certainly have favoured his great object in writing this piece, viz. the vindication of Dionysius in using a like caution with respect to the Sabellians, to have added, that this prudence or caution was not, in either of the two cases, finally detrimental to the cause of truth. I therefore consider the silence of Athanasius on this head as a negative argument of some weight; and upon the whole I think I have made it appear that Athanasius must have supposed that both the Jewish and Gentile churches were Unitarian in the time of the apostles, at least he enables us to infer that it must have been so ; and this is quite sufficient for my argument.

That Athanasius, however, should actually consider the doctrine of the divinity of Christ as for some time unknown to the generality of Christians, in the age of the apostles, will be thought the less extraordinary, when it is observed that, like Tertullian, he acknowledged the Unitarian doctrine to be very prevalent among the lower class of people in his own time. He calls them the oi modos, the many, and describes

* According to Athanasius, the Jews were to be well-grounded in the belief of Jesus being the Christ, before they could be taught the doctrine of his divinity. Now if we look into the book of Acts, we shall clearly see that they had not got beyond the first lesson in the apostolic age; the great burden of the preaching of the apostles being to persuade the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. That he was likewise God, they evidently left to their successors; who, indeed, did it most effectually, though it required a long course of time to do it. (P.)

+ Charge, p. 21. (P.) Tracts, p. 21.

them as persons of " low understanding. Things that are sublime and difficult,” he says, “are not to be apprehended except by faith; and ignorant people must fall, if they cannot be persuaded to rest in faith, and avoid curious questions."

There can be no doubt, therefore, but that the doctrine of the Trinity was a long time very unpopular with the common people among Christians; and ihis is a fact that cannot be satisfactorily accounted for, but on the supposition that the doctrine of the simple humanity of Christ was that which had been handed down to them by tradition from the apostles. It was not the doctrine of Arius that Athanasius is here complaining of, but that of Paulus Samosatensis, who was a proper Unitarian, believing that Christ had no existence before he was born of his mother Mary. The great popularity of Photinus, at and after this time, shews with what difficulty the common people were brought off from this doctrine; and also the confession of Austin, that he was of that opinion till he became acquainted with the writings of Plato.

It is not from Athanasius alone that we are informed of this cautious proceeding of the apostles in divulging the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. Chrysostom ascribes the same caution both to Christ himself and the apostles. “One reason,” he says, “ why Christ said so little of his own divinity was on account of the weakness of his auditors. Whenever he spake of himself as any thing more than man, they were tumultuous and offended; but when he spake with humility, and as a man, they ran to him and received his words.” † Of this he gives many examples.

" Our Saviour," he says, “ never taught his own divinity in express words, but only by actions, leaving the fuller explication of it to his disciples. If,” says he, “they (meaning the Jews) were so much offended at the addition of another law to their former, much more must they have been with the doctrine of his divinity.”

Λυπει δε και νυν τις αντεχομενες της αγιας πιςεως, η περι των αυτων βλασφημιων βλαπτεσα τας πολλες μαλιςα της ηλαττωμενες περι την συνεσιν. . Τα γαρ μεγαλα και δυσκαταληπτα των πραγματων πιςει τη προς τον Θεον λαμβανεται. “Οθεν οι περι την γνωσιν αδυνατοντες αποπιπτεσιν, ει μη πειθειεν εμμενειν τη πιςει, και τας περιεργες ζητησεις εκτρεπεσθαι. “ De Incarnatione Verbi, contra Paulum Samosatensem," Athanasii Opera, I. p. 591. (P.)

t Ει ποτε τι της ανθρωπινης φυσεως ειπε πλεον, εθορυβεντο, και εσκανδαλιζοντο· ει δε τι τοτε ταπεινον, και ανθρωπινον, προσετρεχον, και τον λογον εδεχοντο. Chrysost. Ηomil. xxxij. I. p. 409. (P:)

1 Δια δε τετο ουδε περι της θεοτητος της εαυτα πανταχι φαινεται σαφως παιδευων. γαρ ή νομε προσθηκη τoσετον αυτες εθορυβει, πολλα μαλλον το θεον εαυτoν αποφαινειν. In caput Matt. v. Hom. xvi. VII. p. 154. (P.)

E.

« ПретходнаНастави »