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Since, therefore, according to this most unexceptionable account, as it was only an indirect evidence of the divine or super-angelic nature of Christ that the Jewish Christians (by whom the gospel was communicated to the Gentiles) were ever favoured with; can it be thought probable, so highly averse as the account itself states the Jews to have been to the idea of any super-human nature in Christ, that they should, by their own reasoning alone on the subject, have generally abandoned their favourite doctrine, in so short a time as fourscore years? Or if, from some most unaccountable cause, and without any person of great authority to lead them into it, (for no such authority can we trace,) they should have abandoned their original and favourite doctrine, is it probable that they would have been so extremely active and successful in the propagation of their new opinion, and withal have found the Gentiles so very pliant as to have been able to induce the generality of them to make the same change, when at the same time they are known to have had but little connexion, and, indeed, but little respect for each other? Is a period of eighty years a space naturally sufficient for these two successive changes?
But, if we take in another well authenticated circumstance, we shall be obliged to reduce this short space (too short as it already is for the purpose) to one still shorter. Hegesippus, as explained by Valesius, in his notes on Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, says, that the church of Jerusalem continued a virgin, or free from heresy, till the death of Simeon, who succeeded James the Just, that is, till the time of Trajan, or about the year 100, or perhaps. 1.10, for his reign began A. D. 98, and ended A. D. 117. Knowing, therefore, from other circumstances, what this purity of Christian faith was, and what Hegesippus must have known it to be, we have only the space of 40, or perhaps 30 years for so great a change. So rapid at that. particular period must have been that movement which we find by experience to be naturally one of the very slowest in the whole system of nature, viz. the revolution of opinions in great bodies of men.† Can it then be thought probable, that, considering the Jewish and Gentile Christians as one body, the generality of them, the of 50 should have
L. in. C. xxxii. p. 128. (P.) See Vol. VI. pp. 129, 130, Note ‡.
†This is a movement which I could easily shew Mr. Gibbon that he has not much studied, though it behoved him to have given the closest attention to it, preparatory to his account of the overthrow of Paganism by the spread of Christianity. (P.)
abandoned the doctrine of the simple humanity of Christ, in the time of Justin Martyr?
On the contrary, it is certainly not at all improbable that the more learned and philosophical of the Christians, beginning to be ashamed of a crucified man for their Saviour, and firmly believing the doctrine of the pre-existence of all souls, and of their descent into human bodies, should have begun to fancy that Christ must have had some origin superior to that of other men; that this should first of all produce the opinions of the Gnostics, who thought that the Christ, who came down from heaven, was quite distinct from the man Jesus, and felt nothing of his pains or sorrows; or that, these opinions being nearly exploded, the generality of Christian teachers, or bishops, (many of whom were educated in the Platonic school at Alexandria,) should afterwards apply the Platonic doctrine of the Logos to the same subject, and that, by their influence, opinions leading to the deification of Christ should gradually gain ground among the common people. But this must have been a work of time, so that the majority of Christians could hardly have been infected with these principles so early as the time of Justin Martyr.
The philosophical Christians, however, being the only writers whose works are extant, it is easy to account for our knowing no more than we do of the common people and their opinions, and that we are obliged to collect what we do know concerning them from incidental circumstances, as I have endeavoured to do. But these are often the least suspicious intimations of the real state of things. By such circumstances as these, the detail of which may be seen in my History, it will, I think, sufficiently appear, that it was with great difficulty that the generality of Christians were reconciled to the doctrine of the deity of Christ, and that of a Trinity, in any form. As Tertullian expresses himself, they were at first exceedingly scandalized at it, holding firmly to their justly favourite doctrine of the supreme monarchy of the Father. This also sufficiently accounts for the great number of followers which ecclesi astical history gives to every person of learning who avowed the then popular opinion, as Artemon, Noetus, Sabellius, Paulus Samosatensis, and Photinus.
On the subject of this part of my accusation, which my critic says, is the greatest that he has to bring against me, ‡ + Ibid. p. 41.
See Vol. V. pp. 40-48. "Our greatest objection lies against Dr. Priestley's representation of the opinions of Justin Martyr." Mon. Rev. LXVIII. p. 521.
I now appeal to the impartial reader, whether, instead of proving me to have misrepresented Justin Martyr, he has not misrepresented me, and also whether I have not brought sufficient evidence of the opinion I maintained, viz. that the doctrine of the simple humanity of Christ was that which was most generally received in the time of Justin Martyr ; and of this I shall produce more evidence in the next Section.
Of the Quotation from Eusebius; and Tertullian's Account of the Ancient Unitarians, more particularly considered.
My criticiser says, "If Dr. Priestley will turn to Eusebius, and read the chapter with such deliberation as befits an historian writing on subjects of the greatest importance, he will find that his charge of unfairness (even if it be true) is not to be applied to Eusebius, but to a more ancient writer, from whose book the transcript was made which hath so highly offended Dr. Priestley."
I have reperused this chapter of Eusebius, and do not think it quite clear that he is quoting the work of any prior writer in the passage that I have cited; † for he sometimes only gives an account of the work, and not always express quotations from it; and he seems to me to insert observations of his own, in what he does quote from this anonymous writer; so that, upon the whole, I am of opinion (though I may be mistaken) that Eusebius speaks in his own person in what I have quoted from him. However, it is sufficiently evident that he adopts the language, and makes himself answerable for it. Where, then, is the foundation for the tone in which the above remark is delivered?
I acknowledge, however, that I should not have stopped at Justin Martyr, but have proceeded to mention the other authorities, quoted either by Eusebius, or his author. They are, however, of no sort of weight in the decision of the question, and all of them that are extant I had considered in the course of my work. There is no mention of the divinity of Christ in the first and only authentic epistle of Clemens; it being only found in the second and undoubt
* Mon. Rev. LXVIII. p. 523. (P.)
+ See Vol. V. pp. 17, 22, 23.
In the second section of this epistle we find the phrase, the sufferings of God; [see Wake, p. 2;] but this is language so exceedingly shocking and unscriptural, that it is hardly possible to think that it could be used by any writer so near to the time of the apostles; and Junius, who was far from having my objection to it, was of opinion that the whole passage was much corrupted, and that instead of wanata αυτε, that is, Θε8, we ought to read μαθηματα αυτών. (Ρ.)
edly spurious epistle, as I believe all the learned of this day consider it. Eusebius himself says, "It is not so generally received as the former, nor do we know that the ancients have quoted it." He adds, that there were other later forgeries of writings in his name.
Also, though in some pretty ancient hymns, Christ might be mentioned as God, yet being poetical compositions, it is most probable that it was only in some figurative and qualified sense, referring to the power and authority with which he was invested by God, as Moses is said to have been a God to Pharoah. As to the authority of Pliny, if he had been told that hymns were sung by Christians in honour of Christ, being himself a Heathen, he would naturally imagine that they were such hymns as had been composed in honour of the Heathen gods, who had been men. He would be far from concluding from that circumstance, that Christ was considered by his followers either as the Supreme God, or as a pre-existent spirit, the maker of the world under God.
But I wish to proceed to considerations of more importance relating to this passage of Eusebius, and to compare his account of the antiquity of the Christian Unitarians, with their own account of themselves, to see which is in itself the more probable. He, or his author, says, that Theodotus, who was condemned by Victor, was the author and parent of that sect; being the first who asserted that Christ was a mere man; and these Unitarians are even charged with certainly knowing that this was the case, which is directly giving them the lie; and yet this assertion of Eusebius is undoutedly false, as appears on the full face of all ecclesiastical history, and, as I have said, it may be proved from Eusebius himself.
He certainly knew that Justin Martyr had not only mentioned Unitarians, but had treated them with much respect; and he speaks of the Ebionites as contemporaries
*See Vol. V. p. 23.
+ Eccles. Hist. L. iii. C. xxxviii. p. 184. (P.) See Wake, (Disc. xvii.,) p. 88. L. x. Ep. xcvii., where, speaking of the practice of the Christians, he says, from the representations of some who had been tempted to apostatize, " Quod essent soliti stato die ante lucem convenire, carmenque Christo, quasi Deo, dicere secum invicem. That they were wont to meet together on a stated day before it was light, and sing among themselves alternately a hymn to Christ, as a Ġod.” Lardner, VII. pp. 292, 293.
§"Pliny speaks in his own words, or those of the Christians who were brought before him, Heathen people being willing to deify eminent men. Jesus Christ was such an one, especially in the esteem of Christians. All knew he had died, and that the Christians said he was risen again from the dead, and was ascended to heaven. Heathen people, therefore, might naturally enough say, they worshipped Christ, as a God." Ibid. pp. 308, 309.
Eccles. Hist. L. v. C. xxviii. p. 252. (P.) See Vol. V. p. 23.
of Cerinthus, who, according to himself, lived in the time of the apostle John. By his own account, therefore, these Unitarians, who believed Christ to be a mere man, were contemporary with the apostle John; who though greatly offended at heresy, takes no notice of their opinion being one. Nothing, therefore, can be more contrary to truth or probability, than the account of the origin of the Unitarians by Eusebius, or his author; and if I be offended at it, is it without a cause? And how can the Reviewer doubt of my charge of unfairness against Eusebius, or his author, being true? t
Let us now consider the account that these Unitarians, according to Eusebius, gave of themselves. They are said to have affirmed with confidence, that the apostles taught their doctrine, and that it was preserved till the time of Victor or Zephyrinus. What they actually said, we do not know, but it could hardly be, that there had been no innovation whatever in the doctrine concerning the person of Christ before the time of Victor; because the Gnostics are well-known to have been a very numerous sect, consisting of many branches; and before this time Justin Martyr and others had published their account of the personification of the Logos. It is probable, therefore, that what they really maintained was, that their doctrine was that which was most generally received till that time; and this I think to be highly probable, if not demonstrable.
According to all accounts, the doctrine of the simple humanity of Christ was held by the Jewish Christians in the time of the apostles. I do not find that any of them are ever expressly said to have held any other doctrine, only some of them believed the miraculous conception. Athanasius clearly supposes none of them to have believed that Christ had any nature superior to that of man; and he says that they brought the Gentiles, meaning, no doubt, the generality of them, into the same opinion. § This, then, may fairly be supposed to have been the state of things at the time that John wrote his first epistle, which was about the year 80, when it is plain from his own writings there was no opinion among Christians that gave him any alarm, besides that of the Gnostics.
Taking it then for granted, that the doctrine of the simple humanity of Christ was nearly, at least, universal in the
* Eccles. Hist. L. iii. C. xxvii. xxviii. p. 121, &c. (P.)
† As to the very early date of this anonymous piece, see Lardner, who refers it to the year 212. Credibility, III. p. 36. (P.) Works, II. p. 380.
↑ See Vol. V. p. 22.
§ See supra, p. 11.