« PreviousContinue »
was decreed by the fathers there assembled, than on what was clearly taught in the Scriptures. Besides, being necessitated, as they thought, to explain their conceptions of the divine nature of Christ, in words either not used in the Scripture, or whose signification unto that purpose was not determined therein, occasion was given unto endless contentions about them. The Grecians themselves could not for a long season agree among themselves whether ουσία and ὑπόστασις were of the same signification or no, both of them denoting essence and substance; or whether they differed in their signification; or if they did, wherein that difference lay. Athanasius at first affirmed them to be the same, Orat. 5. con. Arian. and Epist. ad African. Basil denied them so to be, or that they were used unto the same purpose in the council of Nice, Epist. 78. The like difference immediately fell out between the Grecians and Latins, about hypostasis' and 'persona.' For the Latins rendered 'hypostasis' by 'substantia,' and 'persona' by póπоV. Hereof Jerome complains, in his epistle to Damasus, that they required of him in the east to confess tres hypostases,' and he would only acknowledge 'tres personas,' Epist. 71. And Austin gives an account of the same difference, de Trinitate, lib. 5. cap. 8, 9. Athanasius endeavoured the composing of this difference, and in a good measure effected it, as Gregory of Nazianzen affirms in his oration concerning his praise. It was done by him in a synod at Alexandria, in the first year of Julian's reign. On this occasion many contests arose even among them who all pleaded their adherence unto the doctrine of the council of Nice. And as the subtle Arians made incredible advantage hereof at first, pretending that they opposed not the Deity of Christ, but only the expression of it by ouoovoios; so afterward they countenanced themselves in coining words and terms to express their minds with, which utterly re
jected it. Hence were their όμοιούσιος, ἑτερούσιος, ἐξ οὐκ ovrov, and the like names of blasphemy, about which the contests were fierce and endless. yet farther evils that ensued hereon.
And there were
For the curious and serpentine wits of men, finding themselves by this means set at liberty to think and discourse of those mysteries of the blessed Trinity, and the person of Christ, without much regard unto plain divine testimonies, in such ways wherein cunning and sophistry did much bear sway, began to multiply such new, curious, and false notions about them, especially about the latter, as caused new disturbances, and those of large extent and long continuance. For their suppression, councils were called on the neck of another, whereon commonly new occasions of differences did arise, and most of them managed with great scandal unto Christian religion. For men began much to forego the primitive ways of opposing errors, and extinguishing heresies, betaking themselves unto their interest, the number of their party, and prevalency with the present emperors. And although it so fell out, as in that at Constantinople, the first at Ephesus, and that at Chalcedon, that the truth for the substance of it did prevail (for in many others it happened quite otherwise), yet did they always give occasions unto new divisions, animosities, and even mutual hatreds, among the principal leaders of the Christian people. And great contests there were among some of them who pretended to believe the same truth, whether such or such a council should be received, that is plainly, whether the church should resolve its faith into their authority. The strifes of this nature about the first Ephesian council, and that at Chalcedon, not to mention them wherein the Arians prevailed, take up a good part of the ecclesiastical story of those days. And it cannot be denied but that some of the principal
persons and assemblies who adhered unto the truth, did in the heat of opposition unto the heresies of other men, fall into unjustifiable excess themselves.
We may take an instance hereof with respect unto the Nestorian heresy, condemned in the first Ephesian council, and afterward in that at Chalcedon. Cyrillus of Alexandria, a man learned and vehement, designed by all means to be unto it, what his predecessor Athanasius had been to the Arian. But he fell into such excesses in his undertakings, as gave great occasion unto farther tumults. For it is evident that he distinguisheth not between ὑπόστασις, and φύσις, and therefore affirms, that the divine Word and humanity had uíav pov, one nature only. So he doth plainly in Epist. ad Successum; they are ignorant,' saith he, ori kar' adńθειαν ἐστὶ μία φύσις τοῦ λόγου σεσαρκωμένη. Hence Eutyches the Archimandrite took occasion to run into a contrary extreme, being a no less fierce enemy to Nestorius than Cyrillus was. For to oppose him who divided the person of Christ into two, he confounded his natures into one, his delirant folly being confirmed by that goodly assembly, the second at Ephesus. Besides, it is confessed that Cyrillus, through the vehemency of his spirit, hatred unto Nestorius, and following the conduct of his own mind in nice and subtle expressions of the great mystery of the person of Christ, did utter many things exceeding the bounds of sobriety prescribed unto us by the apostle, Rom. xii. 3. if not those of truth itself. Hence it is come to pass, that many learned men begin to think and write that Cyrillus was in the wrong, and Nestorius by his means condemned undeservedly. However, it is certain to me, that the doctrine condemned at Ephesus and Chalcedon as the doctrine of Nestorius, was destructive of the true person of Christ; and that Cyril, though he missed
it in sundry expressions, yet aimed at the declaration and confirmation of the truth; as he was long since vindicated by Theorianus, Dialog. con. Armenios.
However, such was the watchful care of Christ over the church as unto the preservation of this sacred, fundamental truth, concerning his divine person, and the union of his natures therein, retaining their distinct properties and operations, that notwithstanding all the faction and disorder that were in those primitive councils, and scandalous contests of many of the members of them; notwithstanding the determination contrary unto it in great and numerous councils; the faith of it was preserved entire in the hearts of all that truly believed, and triumphed over the gates of hell.
I have mentioned these few things which belong unto the promise and prediction of our blessed Saviour, Matt. xvi. 18. the place insisted on, to shew that the church without any disadvantage to the truth, may be preserved without such general assemblies, which in the following ages proved the most pernicious engines for the corruption of the faith, worship, and manners of it. Yea, from the beginning they were so far from being the only way of preserving truth, that it was almost constantly prejudiced by the addition of their authority unto the confirmation of it. Nor was there any one of them wherein the mystery of iniquity did not work unto the laying of some rubbish in the foundation of that fatal apostacy, which afterward openly ensued. The Lord Christ himself hath taken it upon him, to build his church on this rock of his person, by true faith of it and in it. He sends his Holy Spirit to bear testimony unto him, in all the blessed effects of his power and grace. He continueth his word with the faithful ministry of it, to reveal, declare, make known, and vindicate his sacred truth, unto the con
viction of gainsayers. He keeps up that faith in him, that love unto him, in the hearts of all his elect, as shall not be prevailed against. Wherefore, although the oppositions unto this sacred truth, this fundamental article of the church and Christian religion, concerning his divine person, its constitution, and use, as the human nature conjoined substantially unto it, and subsisteth in it, are in this last age increased; although they are managed under so great a variety of forms, as that they are not reducible unto any heads of order; although they are promoted with more subtlety and specious pretences than in former ages; yet, if we are not wanting unto our duty, with the aids of grace proposed unto us, we shall finally triumph in this cause, and transmit this sacred truth inviolate unto them that succeed us in the profession of it.
Chap. iii. This person of Christ, which is the foundation whereon the church is built, whereunto all sorts of oppositions are endeavoured and designed, is the most ineffable effect of divine goodness and wisdom; whereof we treat in the next place. But herein when I speak of the constitution of the person of Christ, I intend not his person absolutely as he is the eternal Son of God. He was truly, really, completely, a divine person from eternity, which is included in the notion of his being the Son, and so distinct from the Father, which is his complete personality. His being so was not a voluntary contrivance or effect of divine wisdom and goodness, his eternal generation being a necessary internal act of the divine nature in the person of the Father.
Of the eternal generation of the divine person of the Son, the sober writers of the ancient church did constantly affirm that it was firmly to be believed, but as unto the manner of it not to be inquired into. 'Scrutator majestatis absorbetur a gloria,' was their