« PreviousContinue »
by the writings of the apostles and evangelists there were at that time, and how many even now are there still in the common herd of the faithful, who, by only partaking in the holy mysteries, and by a simple observance of the commandments, we see pleasing God; when even the apostles themselves, the first teachers, only thought as those whom we see to be included in this condemnation of Theodorus!"* The case is indeed the same in a greater or less degree, at all times and in all churches. Quiet people will generally be indulged in their own way of thinking; and they are only those that disturb others that are themselves disturbed.
Is it not well known that there are both Arians and Socinians, members of the Church of England, and even among the clergy themselves; and yet if they can reconcile it to their own minds to keep in communion with a Trinitarian Church, there are no attempts made to molest them. Zealous as the heads of the church are (from the archdeacons to the archbishops) for the purity of its tenets, they think proper to connive at these things; and so they did in an age more zealous than this. The excellent Mr. Firmiut was not only an avowed Socinian, and in communion with the Church of England, but in habits of intimacy with Tillotson, and some of the most distinguished churchmen of his time. At present there are Arian and Socinian writers within the pale of your church; and yet I dare say it never occurred to any archdeacon, bishop, or archbishop, that it would be proper to excommunicate any of them for the part they have acted. Such a thing as this might not have passed so easily in the time of Theodosius; but even then I make no doubt but that persons who could content themselves without disturbing others, would not have been molested.
You and I are both agreed that persons who do not boná
• “Condemnaverunt omnes ab ipso in quem illum incidisse putant errore conversos.--Ubi quid agent de Martha et Maria, sororibus Lazari, qua familiari devotione ipsi domino dum hic in carne degerit adhæserunt? Et tamen utraque, id est, prius Martha, ac deinde Maria, legitur illi dixisse, Domine, si fuisses hic, frater meus non fuisset mortuus. Quæ licet crederent quod ipse esset filius Dei qui in mundum venisset, tamen non dicerent si fuisses hîc, si eum cognoscerent sicut Deum, ubique esse præsentem. Eadem ergo sapuerunt quæ dicitur sapuisse Theodorus, et cum Theodoro simul anathematisatæ sunt. Et quantos vel eo tempore in evangeliis et apostolicis scriptis tales fuisse cognovimus? Quantos etiam nunc tales in grege fidelium, sola sanctorum mysteriorum participatione, et simplici præceptorum obedientia, placentes Deo vidimus; cum et ipsi primi pastores ejus Apostoli sic aliquando sapuerunt, quos omnes cum Theodoro vidimus in hoc anathemate condemnatos." Pro Defensione trium Capitulorum, L. x. C. vii. p. 162. (P.)
+ See Vol. X. pp. 360, 361, Note †.
fide hold, the acknowledged tenets of any church, (I mean such great and distinguished ones as those relating to the object of worship,) ought to withdraw themselves from it,* and not, by continuing in communion with it, to countenance its errors. But how many are there who do not see the thing in the same light, or whose habits and prejudices are such, that they cannot bring themselves to act as we think every principle of honour, as well as of religion, dictates! And yet I cannot agree with you, if you should say, that all such persons are hypocrites and insincere, doing what they themselves know and feel to be wrong. They have excuses which I doubt not satisfy their own minds, though they do not satisfy me. Great allowance, no doubt, is also to be made for the force of habit, and even for a natural timidity. There are many Erasmuses for one Luther, many Dr. Clarkes for one Whiston,† a name which, notwithstanding the weakness of his judgment in some things, ought never to be mentioned without respect, on account of his almost singular and unparalleled uprightness.
As to the common people, the idiota of Tertullian, we generally see that, as they are not innovators in doctrine, they go to public worship where they have been used to do, without any nice discrimination of what is transacted there; and the observation will generally apply to the bulk of the inferior clergy. When Henry VIII. reformed the Church of England, how many joined him in it who would never have declared themselves Dissenters from the Established Church! The church is now Trinitarian; but supposing that an Arian or Socinian parliament (which is a possible case in this inquisitive and fickle age) should change the established religion in that respect, how many do you think of the clergy (excepting those who possess the rank, the knowledge, and the zeal of Archdeacons, &c., and also those whom you would place in "the dregs of methodism,"+) would become Dissenters, especially if, as was often the case in former times, they had no alternative but a prison with a good conscience, or their present emoluments without one? rather think they would contrive to keep both, and soon make themselves perfectly easy in their new situation.
With respect to the common people in general, settled as you may think them to be in the doctrines of the Church of England, perpetually hearing of three persons and one
supra, p. 107, Note.
+ See his Historical Memoirs of Dr. Clarke, Ed. 3, 1748, pp. 35-41.
Letters, p. 62. (P.) Tracts, p. 160.
God, and daily making their responses to the holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity; yet could they, without any preparation or discussion, hear Mr. Lindsey's reformed liturgy read to them by their usual ministers, and no Archdeacon should sound the alarm, but they were to take it for granted that all was done by order of their superiors, and therefore right, I dare say the peace of few parishes would be much disturbed by it.
These considerations, which are founded on such a knowledge of human nature as we may learn from all history and our own daily observation, may render it credible, that the majority of the common people, the idiote of Tertullian, though not the idiots of Dr. Horsley, might be Unitarians, and yet continue in communion with the church after its forms became Trinitarian, especially as they would not become so all at once. In the most ancient liturgies, you know, there were no prayers addressed to Christ; and as the members of Christian societies were not required to subscribe to any thing, there was nothing that they were expected to bear a part in, concerning which they might not be able to satisfy themselves.
I am, &c.
Of the Quotation from Athanasius.
It is with very little effect, indeed, that you cavil at my quotation from Athanasius, and the defence I made of it. To every impartial reader it discovers how extremely averse the Jews were to the doctrine of the divinity of Christ; and, to borrow a word from you and Mr. Badcock, to what management the apostles were reduced in divulging this offensive doctrine to them. I have nothing to offer in addition to what I said on that subject, except that I have no objection to your rendering ευλογος αιτια, a good reason, instead of a plausible pretence; for I doubt not that it appeared a very good reason to Athanasius, who had nothing better to suggest.
Athanasius, however, by no means stands single in his view of the prejudices of the Jews, and of the conduct of
* In the times in which the doctrine of the Trinity was most agitated, some of the more zealous bishops proposed the Nicene Creed and other tests to those who were in communion with them; but even then this practice does not appear to have been general. (P.)
the apostles with respect to them. Epiphanius, as quoted above, [p. 163,] shews how prevalent the doctrine of the simple humanity of Christ was at the time that John wrote. There are also passages in several of the fathers, and especially a great number in Chrysostom, by which we clearly perceive that their idea of the conduct of the apostles was precisely the same with that which I have ascribed to Athanasius; and as it is possible that, by a different kind of instinct, my rapid glances may have discovered more passages of this kind than have occurred to you, in the actual reading and study of all the authors, I shall here produce one of them from the Preface to his Commentaries on the Book of Acts.
After treating pretty largely of the conduct of the apostles with respect to their insisting on the doctrine of the resur rection of Christ, rather than that of his divinity, immedi ately after the descent of the Holy Spirit, he says, "As to the Jews, who had daily heard, and been taught out of the law, Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord, and besides him there is no other; having seen him (Jesus) nailed to a cross, yea, having killed and buried him themselves, and not having seen him risen again, if they had heard that this person was God, equal to the Father, would not they have rejected and spurned at it?" I want words in I want words in English to express the force of the Greek in this place. The Latin translator renders it nonne maxime omnes ab his verbis abhorruissent, ac resilissent, et oblatrassent. "On this account," he adds, "they (the apostles) brought them forwards gently, and by slow degrees, and used great art in condescending to their weakness."*
In how different a light do Chrysostom and you represent the same thing! According to you, the Jews were always fully persuaded that their Messiah was to be God, equal to the Father; and, therefore, after the apostles had persuaded them that Jesus was the Messiah, they had nothing to apprehend from their attachment to the doctrine of the unity of God, and had no occasion for any art or management with respect to it. However, their view of things, I doubt not, assisted Athanasius, Chrysostom, and others, who lived
* Πως δε αν Ιουδαιοι, οἱ καθ ̓ ἑκαστην ήμεραν μανθανοντες, και ενηχούμενοι ύπο του νόμου, Ακουε, Ισραηλ, Κύριος ὁ Θεός σου Κυριος εἷς ἐστιν, και πλην αυτού ουκ έστιν άλλος, επί ξύλου σταυρου ιδοντες προσηλωμένον αυτον. μαλλον δε και σταυρωσαντες και θαψαντες, και ουδε ανασταντα θεασαμενοι, ακουοντες ότι Θεος εστιν αυτος ούτος, και τῳ πατρι ίσος, ουκ αν μας λιστα παντων απεπήδησαν τε και απερράγησαν; Διατοι τετο ηρέμα, και κατά μικρόν, αυτές προσβιβάζεσι, και πολλη μεν κεχρηνται τη της συγκαταβασεως οικονομια. Chrysost. in Acta Apost. Hom. 1, Opera, VIII. p. 447. (P.)
nearer to those times than the present Archdeacon of St. Alban's, to account for the great number of Unitarians among the early Jewish Christians; nor could they wonder at the same among the Gentiles, considering as Athanasius does, that they could only learn Christianity from the Jews; and it would have answered no end for the apostles to have spoken with caution to the Jews, and with openness to the Gentiles. Besides, according to Chrysostom, the Gentiles were not much better prepared to receive the doctrine of the divinity of Christ than the Jews themselves.
In the same passage, part of which I have quoted above, after observing that, if the apostles had not conducted themselves in this cautious manner with respect to the Jews, their whole doctrine would have appeared incredible to them, he adds, "and at Athens Paul calls him (Jesus) simply a man, and nothing further, and for a good reason. For it, when they had heard Christ himself speaking of his equality to the Father, they would, on that account, have often stoned him, .and called him a blasphemer; they would hardly, therefore, have received this doctrine from fishermen, especially after speaking of him as crucified. And why do I speak of the Jews, when, at that time, even the disciples of Christ himself were often disturbed, and scandalized at him, when they heard sublime doctrines; on which account he said, I have many things to say to you, but ye are not yet able to bear them. And if they could not bear these things, who had lived so long with him, and had received so many mysteries," and seen so many miracles, how could men, from their altars, and idols, and sacrifices, and cats, and crocodiles; for such was the worship of the Heathens? But being first brought off from these abominations, they would readily receive their discourse concerning more sublime doctrines."*
* Εν δε Αθηναις, και ανθρωπον αυτόν ἁπλως καλει ὁ Παυλος, ουδε πλεον ειπων εικοτως ει γαρ αυτον τον Χριστον διαλεγομενον περι της εις τον πατέρα ισοτητος, λιθάσαι πολλακις επεχείρησαν, και βλασφημον δια τουτο εκαλουν, σχολη γαρ αν παρα των άλιεων τουτον τον λογον εδέξαντο, και ταύτα του σταυρού προχωρήσαντες. Και τι δει λεγειν τους Ιουδαίους; όπουγε και αυτοι τοτε πολλακις οἱ μαθηται των υψηλότερων ακουοντες δογματων εθορυβουντο και εσκανδαλίζοντο δια τουτο και έλεγε, Πολλα εχω λεγειν ὑμιν αλλ' ου δυνασθε βαστάζειν αρτι. Ει δε εκείνοι οὐκ εδύναντο οἱ συγγενόμενοι χρονον τοσουτον αυτῷ, και τοσουτων κοινωνησε αντες απορρήτων, και τοσαυτα θεασαμενοι θαύματα, πως ανθρωποι απο βωμων, και ειδώλων, και θυσιών, και αιλούρων, και κροκοδείλων, τοιαυτα γαρ ην των Ελλήνων τα σεβάσματα και των άλλων των κακων τότε πρωτον αποσπασθέντες, αθρούν τους ύψηλους των δογματων EDEVTO λoyous; In Acta, Hom. i. Opera, VIII. p. 447. (P.)
The latter part of the quotation will admit of a translation more favourable to my purpose, by introducing a parenthesis and a note of interrogation, as follows: "How could men who were then first taken from their altars, idols, &c., (for such was the worship of the Heathen,) and being then first brought off from these abominations readily receive sublime doctrines?" (P.) Appendix (No. III.) to Letters, Pt. ii. 1784.