Page images

and disabusing the perplexed inquirer, opened to the heretical party the opportunity of a new misrepresentation. Whenever the orthodox writers showed an anxiety to reconcile and discriminate their own expressions, the charge of Manicheism was urged against them; as if to dwell upon, were to rest in the material images which were the signs of the unknown truths. Thus the phrase, “Light of Light,” the orthodox and almost apostolic emblem of the derivation of the Son from the Father, as symbolizing Their inseparability, mutual relation, and the separate fulness and exact parallelism and unity of Their perfections, was interpreted by the gross conceptions of the Manichæan Hieracas :.

3. When in answer to such objections the Catholics denied that they attached other than a figurative meaning to their words, their opponents suddenly turned round, and professed the figurative meaning of the terms to be that which they themselves advocated. This inconsistency in their mode of conducting the argument deserves notice. It has already been instanced in the original argument of Arius, who maintained, that, since the word Son in its literal sense included among other ideas that of a beginning of being, the Son of

[ocr errors]

God had had a beginning or was created, and therefore was not really a Son of God at all. It was on account of such unscrupulous dexterity in the controversy, that Alexander and Athanasius give them the title of chameleons. “They are as variable and uncertain in their opinions,” (says the latter,) “as chameleons in their colour. When refuted, they look confused, and when examined they are perplexed; however, at length they recover their assurance, and bring forward some evasion. Then, if this in turn is exposed, they do not rest till they have devised some new absurdity, and, as Scripture says, meditate vain things, so that they may secure the privilege of being profane *.”

Let us, however, pursue the Arians on their new ground of allegory. It has been already observed, that they explain the word Only-begotten in the sense of onlycreated ; and considered the oneness of the Father and Son to consist in an unity of character and will, such as exists between God and His Saints, not in nature.

Now, surely, the temper of mind, which had recourse to such a comparison between Christ and us, to defend a heresy, was still more odious, if possible, than the original impiety of the heresy itself. Thus, the honours graciously bestowed upon human nature, as well as the condescending self-abasement of our Lord, were made to subserve the cause of the blasphemer. It is a known peculiarity of the message of mercy, that it views the Church of Christ as if clothed with, or hidden within, the glory of Him who ransomed it; so that there is no name or title belonging to Him literally, which is not in a secondary

4 Athan. de Decr. Nic. 1. Socr. i. 6. [Vide Ath. Tr. p. 81, t.]

sense applied to the reconciled penitent. As our Lord is the Priest and King of His redeemed, they, as members of Him, are accounted kings and priests also. They are said to be Christs, or the anointed, to partake of the Divine Nature, to be the well-beloved of God, His sons, one with Him, and heirs of glory; in order to express the fulness and the transcendant excellence of the blessings gained to the Saints by Christ. In all these forms of speech, no religious mind runs the risk of confusing its own privileges with the real prerogatives of Him who gave them; yet it is obviously difficult in argument to discriminate between the primary and secondary use of the words, and to elicit and exhibit the delicate reasons lying in the context of Scripture for conclusions, which the common sense of a Christian is impatient as well as shocked to hear disputed. Who would so trifle with words, to take a parallel case, as to argue that, because Christians are said by St. John to “know all things," that therefore God is not omniscient in a sense infinitely above man's highest intelligence ? · It may be observed, moreover, that the Arians were inconsistent in their application of the allegorical rule, by which they attempted to interpret Scripture; and showed as great deficiency in their philosophical conceptions of God, as in their practical devotion to Him. They seem to have fancied that some of His acts were more comprehensible than others, and might accordingly be made the basis on which the rest might be interpreted. They referred the divine gennesis or generation to the notion of creation; but creation is in fact as mysterious as the divine gennesis; that is, we are as little able to understand our own words, when we speak of the world's being brought out of nothing at God's word, as when we confess that His Eternal Perfections are reiterated, without being doubled, in the person of His Son. “How is it,” asks Athanasius, " that the impious men dare to speak flippantly on subjects too 'sacred to approach, mortals as they are, and incapable of explaining even God's works upon earth? Why do I say, His earthly works? let them treat of themselves, if so be they can investigate their own nature; yet venturous and self-confident, they tremble. not before the glory of God, which Angels are fain reverently to look into, though in nature and rank far more excellent than they..”. Accordingly he argues that nothing is gained by resolving one of the divine operations into another; that to make, when attributed to God, is essentially distinct from the same act when ascribed to man, as incomprehensible as to give birth or begeto; and consequently that it is our highest wisdom to take the truths of Scripture as we find them there, and use them for the purposes for which they are vouchsafed, without proceeding accurately to systematize them or to. explain them away. Far from elucidating, we are evidently enfeebling the revealed doctrine, by substituting onlycreated for only-begotten; for if the words are synonymous, why should the latter be insisted on in Scripture? Accordingly, it is proper to make a distinction between the primary and the literal meaning of a term. All the terms which human language applies to the Supreme

5 Athan. on Matt. xi. 22. $ 6.

s Athan. de Decr. Nic. 11 ; vide also Greg. Naz. Orat. 35, p. 566. Euseb. Eccl. Theol. i. 12,

Being, may perhaps be more or less figurative; but their primary and secondary meaning may still remain as distinct, as when they are referred to earthly objects. We need not give up the primary meaning of the word Son as opposed to the secondary sense of adoption, because we forbear to use it in its literal and material sense.

4. This being the general character of the Arian reasonings, it is natural to inquire what was the object towards which they tended. Now it will be found, that this audacious and elaborate sophistry could not escape one of two conclusions :—the establishment either of a sort of ditheism, or, as the more practical alternative, of a mere humanitarianism as regards our Lord; either a heresy tending to paganism, or the virtual atheism of philosophy. If the professions of the Arians are to be believed, they confessed our Lord to be God, God in all respects”, full and perfect, yet at the same time to be infinitely distant from the perfections of the One Eternal Cause. Here at once they are committed to a ditheism ; but Athanasius drives them on to the extreme of polytheism. “If,” he says, “ the Son were an object of worship for His transcendent glory, then every subordinate being is bound to worship his superior 8.” But so repulsive is the notion of a secondary God both to reason, and much more to Christianity, that the real tendency of Arianism lay towards the sole remaining alternative, the humani. tarian doctrine.--Its essential agreement with the heresy of Paulus has already been incidentally shown ; it differed from it only when the pressure of controversy

7 aanphs eds. s Cudw. Intell. Syst. 4. § 36. Petav. ii. 12. $ 6.

« PreviousContinue »