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THE TEACHING OF THE ANTE-NICENE CHURCH IN ITS
RELATION TO THE ARIAN HERESY.
ON THE PRINCIPLE OF THE FORMATION AND IMPOSITION
It has appeared in the foregoing Chapter, that the temper of the Ante-Nicene Church was opposed to the imposition of doctrinal tests upon her members; and on the other hand, that such a measure became necessary in proportion as the cogency of Apostolic Tradition was weakened by lapse of time. This is a subject which will bear some further remarks; and will lead to an investigation of the principle upon which the formation and imposition of crceds rests. After this, I shall delineate the Catholic doctrine itself, as held in the first ages of Christianity; and then, the Arian substitution for it.
1. I have already observed, that the knowledge of the Christian mysteries was, in those times, accounted as a privilege, to be eagerly coveted. It was not likely, then, that reception of them would be accounted a test; which implies a concession on the part of the recipient, not an advantage. The idea of disbelieving, or criticizing the great doctrines of the faith, from the nature of the case, would scarcely occur to the primitive Christians. These doctrines were the subject of an Apostolical Tradition; they were the very truths which had been lately revealed to mankind. They had been committed to the Church's keeping, and were dispensed by her to those who sought them, as a favour. They were facts, not opinions. To come to the Church was all one with expressing a readiness to receive her teaching; to hesitate to believe, after coming for the sake of believing, would be an inconsistency too rare to require a special provision against the chance of it. It was sufficient to meet the evil as it arose: the power of excommunication and deposition was in the hands of the ecclesiastical authorities, and, as in the case of Paulas, was used impartially. Yet, in the matter of fact, such instances of contumacy were comparatively rare; and the Ante-Nicene heresies were in many instances the innovations of those who had never been in the Church, or who had already been expelled from it.
We have some difficulty in putting ourselves into the situation of Christians in those times, from the circumstance that the Holy Scriptures are now our sole means of satisfying ourselves on points of doctrine. Thus, every one who comes to the Church considers himself entitled to judge and decide individually
[Hoc penitus absurdum est, ut discipulus, ad magistrum vadens, ante sit artifex quam doceatur, &c. Hieron. adv. Lucif. 12.]
upon its creed.
But in that primitive age, the Apostolical Tradition, that is, the Creed, was practically the chief source of instruction, especially considering the obscurities of Scripture; and being withdrawn from public view, it could not be subjected to the degradation of a comparison, on the part of inquirers and halfChristians, with those written documents which are vouchsafed to us from the same inspired authorities. As for the baptized and incorporate members of the Church, they of course had the privilege of comparing the written and the oral tradition, and might exercise it as profitably as in comparing and harmonizing Scripture with itself. But before baptism, the systematic knowledge was withheld ; and without it, Scripture, instead of being the source of instruction on the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation, was scarcely more than a sealed book, needing an interpretation, amply and powerfully as it served the purpose of proving those doctrines, when they were once disclosed. And so much on the reluctance of the primitive Fathers to publish creeds, on the ground that the knowledge of Christian doctrines was a privilege reserved for those who were baptized, and in no sense a subject of hesitation and dispute.—It may be added, that the
be added, that the very love of power, which in every age will
the bulk of those who are exposed to the temptation of it, and ecclesiastics in the number, would indispose them to innovate upon a principle which made themselves the especial guardians of revealed truth”. Their backwardness proceeded also from a profound reverence for the sacred mysteries of which they were the dispensers. Here they present us with the true exhibition of that pious sensitiveness which the heathen had conceived, but could not justly execute. The latter had their mysteries, but their rude attempts were superseded by the divine discipline of the Gospel, which here acted in the office which is peculiarly its own, rectifying, combining, and completing the inventions of uninstructed nature. If the early Church regarded the very knowledge of the truth as a fearful privilege, much more did it regard that truth itself as glorious and awful; and scarcely conversing about it to her children, shrank from the impiety of subjecting it to the hard gaze of the multitude. We still pray, in the Confirmation service, for those who are introduced into the full privileges of the Christian covenant, that they may be "filled with the spirit of God's holy fear;" but the meaning and practical results of deep-seated religious reverence were far better understood in the primitive times than now, when the infidelity of the world has corrupted the Church. Now, we allow ourselves publicly to canvass the most solemn truths in a careless or fiercely argumentative way; truths, which it is as useless as it is
2 Vide Hawkins on Unauthoritative Tradition.
8 Sozomen gives this reason for not inserting the Nicene Creed in his history: “I formerly deemed it necessary to transcribe the confession of faith drawn up by the unanimous consent of this Council (the Nicene], in order that posterity might possess a public record of the truth; but subsequently I was persuaded to the contrary by some godly and learned friends, who represented that such matters ought to be kept secret, as being only requisite to be known by disciples and their instructors (μύσταις και μυσταγωγούς), and it is possible that the volume will fall into the hands of the unlearned (twv åuvhtwv).” Hist. i. 20. Bohn's translation.
unseemly to discuss in public, as being attainable only by the sober and watchful, by slow degrees, with dependence on the Giver of wisdom, and with strict obedience to the light which has already been granted. Then, they would scarcely express in writing, what is now not only preached to the mixed crowds who frequent our churches, but circulated in print among all ranks and classes of the unclean and the profane, and pressed upon all who choose to purchase it. Nay, so perplexed is the present state of things, that the Church is obliged to change her course of acting, after the spirit of the alteration made at Nicæa, and unwillingly to take part in the theological discussions of the day, as a crushes venomous creatures of necessity, powerful to do it, but loathing the employment. This is the apology which the author of the present work, as far as it is worth while to introduce himself, offers to all soberminded and zealous Christians, for venturing to exhibit publicly the great evangelical doctrines, not indeed in the medium of controversy or proof (which would be a still more humiliating office), but in an historical and explanatory form. And he earnestly trusts, that, while doing so, he may be betrayed into no familiarity or extravagance of expression, cautiously lowering the Truth, and (as it were), wrapping it in reverent language, and so depositing it in its due resting-place, which is the Christian's heart; guiltless of those unutterable profanations with which a scrutinizing infidelity wounds and lacerates it. Here, again, is strikingly instanced the unfitness of books, compared with private communication, for the purposes of religious instruction;