Page images

added to the above, in proof of the connexion of the Arians with the schools of heathen disputation. The two Gregories, Basil, Ambrose, and Cyril, protest with one voice against the dialectics of their opponents; and the sum of their declarations is briefly expressed by a writer of the fourth century, who calls Aristotle the Bishop of the Arians 6.


And while the science of argumentation provided the means, their practice of disputing for the sake of exercise or amusement supplied the temptation, of assailing received opinions. This practice, which had long prevailed in the Schools, was early introduced into the Eastern Churcho. It was there employed as a means of preparing the Christian teacher for the controversy with unbelievers. The discussion sometimes proceeded in the form of a lecture delivered by the master of the school to his pupils'; sometimes in that of an inquiry, to be submitted to the criticism of the hearers; sometimes by way of dialogue, in which opposite sides were taken for argument-sake. In some cases, it was taken down in notes by the bystanders, at the time; in others committed to writing by the parties engaged in it?. Necessary as these exercises would be for the purpose designed,

5 Petav. Dogm. Theol. supra. Brucker, vol. iii. pp. 324. 352, 353. Epiph. Hær. lxix. 69. [Vigil. Thaps. contr. Eutych. i. 2.]

The art was called εριστική ; and the actual discussion, γυμνασία. Cressol. Theatr. Rhet. ii. 3. [Vide also Athan. Tr. p. 44, e. Also a remarkable instance in Ernesti from Origen, ap. Lumper, t. 10, p. 148. Contrasted with γυμναστικοί λόγοι were αγωνιστικοί, in earnest, according to Sextus Empiricus, vide Hypot. i. 33, p. 57, with Fabricius's note.]

7 Dodw. Diss. in Iren. v. 14. Socr. Hist. i. 5.

yet they were obviously open to abuse, though moderated by ever so orthodox and strictly scriptural a rule, in an age when no sufficient ecclesiastical symbol existed, as a guide to the memory and judgment of the eager disputant. It is evident, too, how difficult it would be to secure opinions or arguments from publicity, which were but hazarded in the confidence of Christian friendship, and which, when viewed apart from the circumstances of the case, lent a seemingly deliberate sanction to heterodox novelties. Athanasius implies", that in the theological works of Origen and Theognostus, while the orthodox faith was explicitly maintained, nevertheless heretical tenets were discussed, and in their place more or less defended, by way of exercise in argument. The countenance thus accidentally given to the cause of error is evidenced in his eagerness to give the explanation. But far greater was the evil, when men destitute of religious seriousness and earnestness engaged in the like theological discussions, not with any definite ecclesiastical object, but as a mere trial of skill, or as a literary recreation ; regardless of the mischief thus done to the simplicity of Christian morals, and the evil encouragement given to fallacious reasonings and sceptical views. The error of the ancient Sophists had consisted in their indulging without restraint or discrimination in the discussion of practical topics, whether religious or political, instead of selecting such as might exercise, without demoralizing, their minds. The rhetoricians of Christian times introduced the same error into their treatment

8 Athan. de Decret. 25 and 27. [He says the same of Marcellus in his defence, Apol. contr. Ar. 47.]


of the highest and most sacred subjects of theology. We are told, that Julian commenced his opposition to the true faith by defending the heathen side of religious questions, in disputing with his brother Gallus °; and probably he would not have been able himself to assign the point of time at which he ceased merely to take a part, and became earnest in his unbelief. But it is unnecessary to have recourse to particular instances, in order to prove the consequences of a practice so evidently destructive of a reverential and sober spirit.

Moreover, in these theological discussions, the disputants were in danger of being misled by the unsoundness of the positions which they assumed, as elementary truths or axioms in the argument. As logic and rhetoric made them expert in proof and refutation, so there was much in other sciences, which formed a liberal education, in geometry and arithmetic, to confine the mind to the contemplation of material objects, as if these could supply suitable tests and standards for examining those of a moral and spiritual nature; whereas there are truths foreign to the province of the most exercised intellect, some of them the peculiar discoveries of the improved moral sense (or what Scripture terms“ the spirit), and others still less on a level with our reason, and received on the sole authority of Revelation. Then, however, as now, the minds of speculative men were impatient of ignorance, and loth to confess that the laws of truth and falsehood, which their experience of this world furnished, could not at once be applied to measure and determine the facts of another. Accordingly, nothing was left for those who would not believe the incomprehensibility of the Divine Essence, but to conceive of it by the analogy of sense; and using the figurative terms of theology in their literal meaning as if landmarks in their inquiries, to suppose that then, and then only, they steered in a safe course, when they avoided every contradiction of a mathematical and material nature. Hence, canons grounded on physics were made the basis of discussions about possibilities and impossibilities in a spiritual substance, as confidently and as fallaciously, as those which in modern times have been derived from the same false analogies against the existence of moral self-action or free-will. Thus the argument by which Paulus of Samosata baffled the Antiochene Council, was drawn from a sophistical use of the very word substance, which the orthodox had employed in expressing the scriptural notion of the unity subsisting between the Father and the Son'. Such too was the mode of reasoning adopted at Rome by the Artemas or Artemon, already mentioned, and his followers, at the end of the second century. A contemporary writer, after saying that they supported their "God-denying apostasy” by syllogistic forms of argument, proceeds, “Abandoning the inspired writings, they devote themselves to geometry, as becomes those who are of the earth, and speak of the earth, and are ignorant of Him who is from above. Euclid's treatises, for instance, are zealously studied by some of them ; Aristotle and Theophrastus are objects of their admiration; while Galen may be said even to be adored by others. It is needless to declare that such perverters of the sciences of unbelievers to the purposes of their own heresy, such diluters of the simple Scripture faith with heathen subtleties, have no claim whatever to be called believers ?." And such is Epiphanius's description of the Anomeans, the genuine offspring of the original Arian stock. “Aiming," he says, “to exhibit the Divine Nature by means of Aristotelic syllogisms and geometrical data, they are thence led on to declare that Christ cannot be derived from God 3."

9 Greg. Nazianz. Orat. iii. 27. 31. [iv. 30.]

1 Bull, Defens. F. N. ii. 1. 10.


Lastly, the absence of an adequate symbol of doctrine increased the evils thus existing, by affording an excuse and sometimes a reason for investigations, the necessity of which had not yet been superseded by the authority of an ecclesiastical decision. The traditionary system, received from the first age of the Church, had been as yet but partially set forth in authoritative forms; and by the time of the Nicene Council, the voices of the Apostles were but faintly heard throughout Christendom, and might be plausibly disregarded by those who were unwilling to hear. Even at the beginning of the third century, the disciples of Artemas boldly pronounced their heresy to be apostolical, and maintained that all the bishops of Rome had held it till Victor inclusive", whose episcopate was but a few years before their own time. The progress of unbelief naturally led them on to disparage, rather than to appeal to their predecessors; and to trust their cause to their own ingenuity, instead

2 Euseb. Hist. v. 28. 3 Epiph. Hær. p. 809.

4 Euseb. ibid.

« PreviousContinue »