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of defending an inconvenient fiction concerning the opinions of a former age. It ended in teaching them to regard the ecclesiastical authorities of former times as on a level with the uneducated and unenlightened of their own days. Paulus did not scruple to express contempt for the received expositors of Scripture at Antioch; and it is one of the first accusations brought by Alexander against Arius and his party, that “they put themselves above the ancients, and the teachers of our youth, and the prelates of the day; considering themselves alone to be wise, and to have discovered truths, which had never been revealed to man before them 5."
On the other hand, while the line of tradition, drawn out as it was to the distance of two centuries from the Apostles, had at length become of too frail a texture, to resist the touch of subtle and ill-directed reason, the Church was naturally unwilling to have recourse to the novel, though necessary measure, of imposing an authoritative creed upon those whom it invested with the office of teaching. If I avow my belief, that freedom from symbols and articles is abstractedly the highest state of Christian communion, and the peculiar privilege of the primitive Church°, it is not from any tenderness towards that proud impatience of control in which
5 Theod. Hist. i. 4. [“ Solæ in contemptu sunt divinæ literæ, quæ nec suam scholam nec magistros habeant, et de quibus peritissimè disputare se credat, qui nunquam didicit.” Facund. p. 581. ed. Sirm.; vide also, p. 565.]
6 [“Non eguistis literâ, qui spiritu abundabatis, etc. Ubi sensus conscientiæ periclitatur, illic litera postulatur.” Hilar. de Syn. 63. Vide the Benedictine note.]
many exult, as in a virtue: but first, because technicality and formalism are, in their degree, inevitable results of public confessions of faith ; and next, because when confessions do not exist, the mysteries of divine truth, instead of being exposed to the gaze of the profane and uninstructed, are kept hidden in the bosom of the Church, far more faithfully than is otherwise possible; and reserved by a private teaching, through the channel of her ministers, as rewards in due measure and season, for those who are prepared to profit by them; for those, that is, who are diligently passing through the successive stages of faith and obedience. And thus, while the Church is not committed to declarations, which, most true as they are, still are daily wrested by infidels to their ruin; on the other hand, much of that mischievous fanaticism is avoided, which at present abounds from the vanity of men, who think that they can explain the sublime doctrines and exuberant promises of the Gospel, before they have yet learned to know themselves and to discern the holiness of God, under the preparatory discipline of the Law and of Natural Religion. Influenced, as we may suppose, by these various considerations, from reverence for the free spirit of Christian faith, and still more for the sacred truths which are the objects of it, and again from tenderness both for the heathen and the neophyte, who were unequal to the reception of the strong meat of the full Gospel, the rulers of the Church were dilatory in applying a remedy, which nevertheless the circumstances of the times imperatively required. They were loth to confess, that the Church had grown too old to enjoy the free, unsuspicious teaching with which her childhood was blest; and that her disciples must, for the future, calculate and reason before they spoke and acted. So much was this the case, that in the Council of Antioch (as has been said), on the objection of Paulus, they actually withdrew a test which was eventually adopted by the more experienced Fathers at Nicæa ; and which, if then sanctioned, might, as far as the Church was concerned, have extinguished the heretical spirit in the very place of its birth.—Meanwhile, the adoption of Christianity, as the religion of the empire, augmented the evil consequences of this omission, excommunication becoming more difficult, while entrance into the Church was less restricted than before.
THE CHURCH OF ALEXANDRIA.
As the Church of Antioch was exposed to the influence of Judaism, so was the Alexandrian Church characterized in primitive times by its attachment to that comprehensive philosophy, which was reduced to system about the beginning of the third century, and then went by the name of the New Platonic, or Eclectic. A supposed resemblance between the Arian and the Eclectic doctrine concerning the Holy Trinity, has led to a common notion that the Alexandrian Fathers were the medium by which a philosophical error was introduced into the Church; and this hypothetical cause of a disputable resemblance has been apparently evidenced by the solitary fact, which cannot be denied, that Arius himself was a presbyter of Alexandria. We have already seen, however, that Arius was educated at Antioch ; and we shall see hereafter that, so far from being favourably heard at Alexandria, he was, on the first promulgation of his heresy, expelled the Church in that city, and obliged to seek refuge among his Collucianists of Syria. And it is manifestly the opinion of Athanasius, that he was but the pupil or the tool of deeper men', probably of
1 Athan. de Decr. Nic. 8. 20; ad Monach. 66; de Synod. 22.
Eusebius of Nicomedia, who in no sense belongs to Alexandria. But various motives have led theological writers to implicate this celebrated Church in the charge of heresy. Infidels have felt a satisfaction, and heretics have had an interest, in representing that the most learned Christian community did not submit implicitly to the theology taught in Scripture and by the Church; a conclusion, which, even if substantiated, would little disturb the enlightened defender of Christianity, who may safely admit that learning, though a powerful instrument of the truth in right hands, is no unerring guide into it. The Romanists”, on the other hand, have thought by the same line of policy to exalt the Apostolical purity of their own Church, by the contrast of unfaithfulness in its early rival; and (what is of greater importance) to insinuate both the necessity of an infallible authority, by exaggerating the errors and contrarieties of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, and the fact of its existence, by throwing us, for exactness of doctrinal statement, upon the decisions of the subsequent Councils. In the following pages, I hope to clear the illustrious Church in question of the grave imputation thus directed against her from opposite quarters: the imputation of considering the Son of God by nature inferior to the Father, that is, of platonizing or arianizing. But I have no need to profess myself her disciple, though, as regards the doctrine in debate, I might well do so; and, instead of setting about any formal defence, I will merely
2 [As to the charges made against Petavius, vide Bull, Defens. N. F. proæm.; Budd. Isagog. p. 580; Bayle, Dict. (Petau.); Brucker, Phil. t. ii. p. 345.]