Page images
[ocr errors]

tion to prove from the text as it now stands), it is to be supposed, that he did not think it necessary to be very exact in his doctrinal terms, when employed in converting a heathen; but in some things, even to concede to his feelings, that he might gain him over to the cardinal points. Accordingly, you may find many expressions there, of which heretics now take great advantage, such as creature,' 'made,' and the like. So again, many statements which he has made concerning the Incarnation, are referred to the Divine Nature of the Son by those who do not skilfully enter into his meaning; as, indeed, is the very expression in question which they have circulated."

I will here again instance a parallel use of the Economy on the part of Athanasius himself, and will avail myself of the words of the learned Petavius. “Even Athanasius," he says, “whose very gift it was, above all other Fathers, to possess a clear and accurate knowledge of the Catholic doctrine concerning the Trinity, so that all succeeding antagonists of Arianism may be truly said to have derived their powers and their arguments from him, even this keen and vigilant champion of orthodoxy, in arguing with the Gentiles for the Divinity and incarnation of the Word, urges them with considerations drawn from their own philosophical notions concerning Him. Not that he was ignorant how unlike orthodoxy, and how like Arianism, such notions were, but he bore in mind the necessity of favourably disposing the minds of the Gentiles to listen to his teaching; and he was aware that it was one thing to lay the rudiments of the

4 Basil. Epist. ccx. $ 5.'

faith in an ignorant or heathen mind, and another to defend the faith against heretics, or to teach it dogmatically. For instance, in answering their objection to the Divine Word having taken flesh, which especially offended them, he bids them consider whether they are not inconsistent in dwelling upon this, while they themselves believe that there is a Divine Word, the presiding principle and soul of the world, through the movements of which He is visibly displayed ; 'for what (he asks) does Christianity say more than that the Word has presented Himself to the inspection of our senses by the instrumentality of a body?' And yet it is certain that the Father and the pervading Word of the Platonists, differed materially from the Sacred Persons of the Trinity, as we hold the doctrine, and Athanasius too, in every page of his writings 6."

These are instances in various ways of the economical method, that is, of accommodation to the feelings and prejudices of the hearer, in leading him to the reception of a novel or unacceptable doctrine. It professes to be founded in the actual necessity of the case; because those who are strangers to the tone of thought and principles of the speaker, cannot at once be initiated into his system, and because they must begin with imperfect views; and therefore, if he is to teach them at all, he must put before them large propositions, which he has afterwards to modify, or make assertions which are but parallel or analogous to the truth, rather than coincident with it. And it cannot be denied, that those who attempt to speak at all times the naked truth, or rather the commonly-received expression of it, are certain, more than other men, to convey wrong impressions of their meaning to those who happen to be below them, or to differ widely from them, in intelligence and cast of mind. On the other hand, the abuse of the Economy in the hands of unscrupulous reasoners, is obvious. Even the honest controversialist or teacher will find it very difficult to represent without misrepresenting, what it is yet his duty to present to his hearers with caution or reserve. Here the obvious rule to guide our practice is, to be careful ever to maintain substantial truth in our use of the economical method. It is thus we lead forward children by degrees, influencing and impressing their minds by means of their own confined conceptions of things, before we attempt to introduce them to our own; yet at the same time modelling their thoughts according to the analogy of those to which we mean ultimately to bring them. Again, the information given to the blind man, that scarlet was like the sound of a trumpet, is an instance of an unexceptionable economy, since it was as true as it could be under the circumstances of the case, conveying a substantially correct impression as far as it went.

5 Petav. de Trin. ii. præf. 3, § 5 [abridged and re-arranged. Vide ibid. iii. 1, § 6. Vide also Euseb. contr. Marcell. ii. 22, p. 140; iii. 3, pp. 161, 2].

In applying this rule to the instances above given, it is plain that Justin, Gregory, or Athanasius, were justifiable or not in their Economy, according as they did or did not practically mislead their opponents. Merely to leave a man in errors which he had independently of us, or to abstain from removing them, cannot be blamed as a fault, and may be a duty; though it is so difficult to hit the mark in these perplexing cases, that it is not wonderful, should these or other Fathers have failed at times, and said more or less than was proper. Again, in the instances of St. Paul, Theonas, Origen, and Clement, the doctrine which their conduct implies, is the Divinity of Paganism ; a true doctrine, though the heathen whom they addressed would not at first rightly apprehend it. But I am aware that some persons will differ from me here, and others will be perplexed about my meaning. So let this be a reserved point, to be considered when we have finished the present subject.

The Alexandrian Father who has already been quoted, accurately describes the rules which should guide the Christian in speaking and acting economically. “Being fully persuaded of the omnipresence of God," says Clement, “and ashamed to come short of the truth, he is satisfied with the approval of God, and of his own conscience. Whatever is in his mind, is also on his tongue; towards those who are fit recipients, both in speaking and living, he harmonizes his profession with his thoughts. He both thinks and speaks the truth ; except when careful treatment is necessary, and then, as a physician for the good of his patients, he will lie, or rather utter a lie, as the Sophists say. For instance, the noble Apostle circumcised Timothy, while he cried out and wrote down,

Circumcision availeth not.'.. Nothing, however, but his neighbour's good will lead him to do this. . . He gives himself up for the Church, for the friends whom he has begotten in the faith, for an ensample to those who have the ability to undertake the high office (economy) of a


religious and charitable teacher, for an exhibition of truth in his words, and for the exercise of love towards the Lord 6"

Further light will be thrown upon the doctrine of the Economy, by considering it as exemplified in the dealings of Providence towards man. The word occurs in St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, where it is used for that series of Divine appointments viewed as a whole, by which the Gospel is introduced and realized among mankind, being translated in our version “dispensation.' It will evidently bear a wider sense, embracing the Jewish and patriarchal dispensations, or any Divine procedure, greater or less, which consists of means and an end. Thus it is applied by the Fathers to the history of Christ's humiliation, as exhibited in the doctrines of His incarnation, ministry, atonement, exaltation, and mediatorial sovereignty, and, as such, distinguished from the

theologiaor the collection of truths relative to His personal indwelling in the bosom of God. Again, it might with equal fitness be used for the general system of Providence by which the world's course is carried on; or, again, for the work of creation itself, as opposed to the absolute perfection of the Eternal God, that internal concentration of His Attributes in self-contemplation, which took place on the seventh day, when He rested from all the work which He had made. And since this everlasting and unchangeable quiescence is the simplest and truest notion we can obtain of the Deity, it seems to follow,

6 Clem. Strom. vii. 8, 9 (abridged). [Vide Plat. Leg. ii. 8, QÚTOTE Hebdetai, kâr yeúdos déyn. Sext. Empir. adv. Log. p. 378, with notes T and U. On this whole subject, vide the Author's “ History of my Religious Opinions,” notes F and G, pp. 313–363.]

« PreviousContinue »