« PreviousContinue »
have actually come from God; in its most degraded, it accounts them all equally to be the result of mere human benevolence and skill. In all its shapes, it differs from the orthodox belief, primarily, in denying the miracles of Scripture to have taken place, in the peculiar way therein represented, as distinctive marks of God's presence accrediting the teaching of those who wrought them; next, as a consequence, in denying this teaching, as preserved in Scripture, to be in such sense the sole record of religious truth, that all who hear it are bound to profess themselves disciples of it. Its apparent connexion with Christianity lies (as St. Austin remarks) in the ambiguous use of certain terms, such as divine, revelation, inspiration, and the like; which may with equal ease be made to refer either to ordinary and merely providential, or to miraculous appointments in the counsels of Almighty Wisdom. And these words would be even more ambiguous than at the present day, in an age, when Christians were ready to grant, that the heathen were in some sense under a supernatural Dispensation, as was explained in the foregoing section.
The rationalism of the Eclectics, though equally opposed with the modern to the doctrine of the peculiar divinity of the Scripture revelations, was circumstantially different from it. The Neologists of the present day deny that the miracles took place in the manner related in the sacred record; the Eclectics denied their cogency as an evidence of the extraordinary presence of God. Instead of viewing them as events of very rare occurrence, and permitted for important objects in the course of God's providence, they considered them to be common to every age and country, beyond the knowledge rather than the power of ordinary men, attainable by submitting to the discipline of certain mysterious rules, and the immediate work of beings far inferior to the Supreme Governor of the world. It followed that, a display of miraculous agency having no connexion with the truth of the religious system which it accompanied, at least not more than any gift merely human was connected with it, such as learning or talent, the inquirer was at once thrown
the examination of the doctrines for the evidence of the divinity of Christianity; and there being no place left for a claim on his allegiance to it as a whole, and for what is strictly termed faith, he admitted or rejected as he chose, compared and combined it with whatever was valuable elsewhere, and was at liberty to propose to himself that philosopher for a presiding authority, whom the Christians did but condescend to praise for his approximation towards some of the truths which Revelation had unfolded. The chapel of Alexander Severus was a fit emblem of that system, which placed on a level Abraham, Orpheus, Pythagoras, and the Sacred Name by which Christians are called. The zeal, the brotherly love, the beneficence, and the wise discipline of the Church, are applauded, and held up for imitation in the letters of the Emperor Julian; who at another time calls the Almighty Guardian of the Israelites a “great Gods," while in common with his sect he professed to restore the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to its ancient and pure Platonic basis. It followed as a natural consequence, that the claims of religion being no longer combined, defined, and embodied in a personal Mediator between God and man, its various precepts were dissipated back again and confused in the mass of human knowledge, as before Christ came; and in its stead a mere intellectual literature arose in the Eclectic School, and usurped the theological chair as an interpreter of sacred duties, and the instructor of the inquiring mind. “In the religion which he (Julian) had adopted,” says Gibbon, "piety and learning were almost synonymous; and a crowd of poets, of rhetoricians, and of philosophers, hastened to the Imperial Court, to occupy the vacant places of the bishops, who had seduced the credulity of Constantius.” Who does not recognize in this old philosophy the chief features of that recent school of liberalism and false illumination, political and moral, which is now Satan's instrument in deluding the nations, but which is worse and more earthly than it, inasmuch as his former artifice, affecting a religious ceremonial, could not but leave so much of substantial truth mixed in the system as to impress its disciples with somewhat of a lofty and serious character, utterly foreign to the cold, scoffing spirit of modern rationalism ?
3 Gibbon, Hist. ch. sxiii.
The freedom of the Alexandrian Christians from the Eclectic error was shown above, when I was explaining the principles of their teaching; a passage of Clement being cited, which clearly distinguished between the ordinary and the miraculous appointments of Providence. An examination of the dates of the history will show that they could not do more than bear this indirect testimony against it by anticipation. Clement himself was prior to the rise of Eclecticism; Origen prior to its public establishment as a sect. Ammonius opened his school at the end of the second century, and continued to preside in it at least till A.D. 2437; during which period, and probably for some years after his death, the real character of his doctrines was carefully hidden from the world. He committed nothing to writing, whether of his exoteric or esoteric philosophy, and when Origen, who was scarcely his junior, attended him in his first years, probably had not yet decidedly settled the form of his system. Plotinus, the first promulgator and chief luminary of Eclecticism, began his public lectures A.D. 244; and for some time held himself bound by the promise of secrecy made to his master. Moreover, he selected Rome as the seat of his labours, and there is even proof that Origen and he never met. In Alexandria, on the contrary, the infant philosophy languished; no teacher of note succeeded to Ammonius; and even had it been otherwise, Origen had left the city for ever, ten years previous to that philosopher's death. It is clear, then, that he had no means of detecting the secret infidelity of the Eclectics; and the proof of this is still stronger, if, as Brucker calculates*, Plotinus did not divulge his master's secret till A.D. 255, since Origen died A.D. 253. Yet, even in this ignorance of the purpose of the Eclectics, we find Origen, in his letter to Gregory expressing dissatisfaction at the actual effects which had resulted to the Church from that literature in which he
himself was so eminently accomplished. “For my part," he says to Gregory, “taught by experience, I will own to you, that rare is the man, who, having accepted the precious things of Egypt, leaves the country, and uses them in decorating the worship of God. Most men who descend thither are brothers of Hadad (Jeroboam), inventing heretical theories with heathen dexterity, and establishing (so to say) calves of gold in Bethel, the house of God”." So much concerning Origen's ignorance of the Eclectic philosophy. As to his pupils, Gregory and Dionysius, the latter, who was Bishop of Alexandria, died A.D. 264; Gregory, on the other hand, pronounced his panegyrical oration upon Origen, in which his own attachment to heathen literature is avowed, as early as A.D. 239; and besides, he had no connexion whatever with Alexandria, having met with Origen at Cæsarea'. Moreover, just at this time there were heresies actually spreading in the Church of an opposite theological character, such as Paulianism; which withdrew their attention from the prospect or actual rise of a Platonic pseudo-theology; as will hereafter be shown.
Such, then, were the origin and principles of the Eclectic sect. It was an excrescence of the school of Alexandria, but not attributable to it, except as other heresies may be ascribed to other Churches, which give them birth indeed, but cast them out and condemn them when they become manifest. It went out from the Christians, but it was not of them :-whether it re
9 Orig. Ep. ad Gregor. § 2. 1 Tillemont, vol. iv. Chronolog.