« PreviousContinue »
God's former revelations concealed; and who in conse. quence called others, (as it were,) to gaze upon these both as a prophetical witness in confutation of unbelief, and in gratitude to Him who had wrought so marvellously with His Church. But it followed from the nature of the case, that, while they thus traced with watchful eyes, under the veil of the literal text, the first and gathering tokens of that Divine Agent who in fulness of time became their Redeemer, they were led to speak of Him in terms short of that full confession of His divine greatness, which the Gospel reveals, and which they themselves elsewhere unequivocally expressed, especially as living in times before the history of heresy had taught them the necessity of caution in their phraseology. Thus, for instance, from a text in the book of Proverbs, which they understood to refer to Christ, Origen and others speak of Him as “created by the Lord in the beginning, before His works of old;" meaning no more than that it was He, the true Light of man, who was secretly intended by the Spirit, and mystically (though incompletely) described, when Solo-, mon spoke of the Divine Wisdom as the instrument of God's providence and moral governance. In like manner, when Justin speaks of the Son as the minister of God, it is with direct reference to those numerous passages of the Old Testament, in which a ministering angelic presence is more or less characterized by the titles and attributes of Divine Perfection". And, in the use of this emblematical diction they were coun
3 Prov, viii. 22, Kúplos éKTIOEV. Septuag. 4 Justin. Apol. i. 63. Tryph. 56, &c.
tenanced (not to mention the Apocalypse) by the almost sacred authority of the platonizing books of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus; works so highly revered by the Alexandrian Church as to be put into the hands of Catechumens as a preparation for inspired Scripture, contrary to the discipline observed in the neighbouring Church of Jerusalem 5.
The following are additional instances of Platonic language in the early Fathers; though the reader will scarcely perceive at first sight what is the fault in them, unless he happens to know the defective or perverse sense
which philosophy or heresy used them °. For instance, Justin speaks of the Word as “fulfilling the Father's will.” Clement calls Him”, “the Thought or Reflection of God;" and in another place, “the Second Principle of all things,” the Father Himself being the First. Elsewhere he speaks of the Son as an "all-perfect, all-holy, all-sovereign, all-authoritative, supreme, and all-searching nature, reaching close upon the sole Almighty.” In like manner Origen speaks of the Son as being "the immediate Creator, and as it were, Artificer of the world;" and the Father, “the Origin of it, as having committed to His Son its creation.” A bolder theology than this of Origen and Clement is adopted by five early writers connected with very various schools of Christian teaching; none of whom, however, are of especial authority in the Church'. They explained the Scripture doctrine of the
5 Bingh. Antiq. x. 1. 7.
8 Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 168); Tatian, pupil of Justin Martyr (A.D. 169); Athenagoras of Alexandria (A.D. 177); Hippolytus, the disciple
generation of the Word to mean, His manifestation at the beginning of the world as distinct from God; a statement, which, by weakening the force of a dogmatic formula which implies our Lord's Divine Nature, might perhaps lend some accidental countenance after their day to the Arian denial of it. These subjects will come before us in the next chapter.
I have now, perhaps, sufficiently accounted for the apparent liberality of the Alexandrian School; which, notwithstanding, was strict and uncompromising, when its system is fairly viewed as a whole, and with reference to its objects, and as distinct from that rival and imitative philosophy, to be mentioned in the next section, which rose out of it at the beginning of the third century, and with which it is by some writers improperly confounded. That its principles were always accurately laid, or the conduct of its masters nicely adjusted to them, need not be contended; or that they opposed themselves with an exact impartiality to every form of error which assailed the Church; or that they duly entered into and soundly applied the Jewish Scriptures; or that in conducting the Economy they were altogether free from an ambitious imitation of the Apostles, nobly conceived indeed, but little becoming uninspired teachers. It may unreluctantly be confessed, wherever it can be proved, that their exoteric professions at times affected the purity of their esoteric doctrine, though this remark scarcely applies to their statements on the subject of the Trinity; and that they of Irenæus and friend of Origen (A.D. 222); and the Author who goes under the name of Novatian (A.D. 250).
indulged a boldness of inquiry, such as innocence prompts, rashness and irreverence corrupt, and experience of its mischievous consequences is alone able to repress. Still all this, and much more than this, were it to be found, weighs as nothing against the mass of testimonies producible from extant documents in favour of the real orthodoxy of their creed. Against a multitude of the very strongest and most explicit declarations of the divinity of Christ, some of which will be cited in their proper place, but a very few apparent exceptions to the strictest language of technical theology can be gathered from their writings, and these are sufficiently explained by the above considerations. And further, such is the high religious temper which their works exhibit, as to be sufficient of itself to convince the Christian inquirer, that they would have shrunk from the deliberate blasphemy with which Arius in the succeeding century assailed and scoffed at the awful majesty of his Redeemer.
Origen, in particular, that man of strong heart, who has paid for the unbridled freedom of his speculations on other subjects of theology, by the multitude of grievous and unfair charges which burden his name with posterity, protests, by the forcible argument of a life devoted to God's service, against his alleged connexion with the cold disputatious spirit, and the unprincipled domineering ambition, which are the historical badges of the heretical party. Nay, it is a remarkable fact, that it was he who discerned the heresy' outside the Church on its first rise,
9 “The Word,” says Origen, “ being the Image of the Invisible God, must Himself be invisible. Nay, I will maintain further, that as being the Image He is eternal, as the God whose Image He is. For when
and actually gave the alarm, sixty years before Arius's day. Here let it suffice to set down in his vindication the following facts, which may be left to the consideration of the reader ;-first, that his habitual hatred of heresy and concern for heretics were such, as to lead him, even when left an orphan in a stranger's house, to withdraw from the praying and teaching of one of them, celebrated for his eloquence, who was in favour with his patroness and other Christians of Alexandria ; that all through his long life he was known throughout Christendom as the especial opponent of false doctrine, in its various shapes; and that his pupils, Gregory, Athenodorus, and Dionysius, were principal actors in the arraignment of Paulus, the historical forerunner of Arius; -next, that his speculations, extravagant as they often were, related to points not yet determined by the Church, and, consequently, were really, what he frequently professed them to be, inquiries ;—further, that these speculations were for the most part ventured in matters of inferior importance, certainly not upon the sacred doctrines which Arius afterwards impugned, and in regard to which even his enemy Jerome allows him to be orthodox;—that the opinions which brought him into disrepute in his lifetime concerned the creation of the world,
was that God, whom St. John calls the Light, destitute of the Radiance of His incommunicable glory, that a man may dare to ascribe a beginning of existence to the Son ? . . . Let a man, who dares to say that the Son is not from eternity, consider well, that this is all one with saying, Divine Wisdom had a beginning, or Reason, or Life.” Athan. de Decr. Nic. $ 27. Vide also his nepl åpxwv (if Ruffinus may be trusted), for his denouncement of the still more characteristic Arianisms of the ho Šte oùK fy and the è oủk óvrwv. [On Origen's disadvantages, vide Lumper Hist. t. x. p. 406, &c.]