Page images
PDF
EPUB

'one with the human nature of Christ, that a disputant, especially an innovator, cannot long maintain such a position. It removes the mystery of the Trinity, only by leaving the doctrine of the Incarnation in a form still more strange, than that which it unavoidably presents to the imagination. Pressed, accordingly, by the authority of Scripture, the Sabellian, instead of speaking of the substantial union of God with Christ, would probably begin to obscure his meaning in the decorum of a figurative language. He would speak of the presence rather than the existence of God in His chosen servant; and this presence, if allowed to declaim, he would represent as a certain power or emanation from the Centre of light and truth; if forced by his opponent into a definite statement, he would own to be but an inspiration, the same in kind, though superior in degree, with that which enlightened and guided the prophets. This is that second form of the Sabellian tenet, which some learned moderns have illustrated, though they must be considered to err in pronouncing it the only true one. That it shoidd have resulted from the difficulties of the Patripassian creed, is natural and almost necessary; and viewed merely as a conjecture, the above account of its rise reconciles the discordant testimonies of ecclesiastical history. But we have almost certain evidence of the matter of fact in Tertullian's tract against Praxeas8, in which the latter is apparently represented as holding successively, the two views of doctrine which have been here described. Parallel instances meet us in the history of the Gnostics and Montanists. Simon Magus, for instance, seems to 6 In Prax. §. 27.

have adopted the Patripassian theory. But the Gnostic family which branched from him, modified it by means of their doctrine of emanations or seons, till in the theology of Valentinus, as in that of Cerinthus and Ebion, the incarnation of the Word, became scarcely more than the display of Divine Power with a figurative personality in the life and actions of a mere man. The Montanists, in like manner, from a virtual assumption of the Divinity of their founder, were led on, as the only way of extricating themselves from one blasphemy, into that other of denying the Personality of the Holy Spirit, and then of the Word. Whether the school of Noetus maintained its first position, we have no means of knowing; but the change to the second, or semi-humanitarian, may be detected in the Sabellians, as in Praxeas before them. In the time of Dionysius of Alexandria, the majority was Patripassian; but in the time of Alexander they advocated the Emanative, as it may be called, or in-dwelling theory 7.

2.

What there is further to be said on this subject shall be reserved for the next chapter. Here, however, it is necessary to examine, how, under these circumstances, the controversy with the Sabellians would affect the language of ecclesiastical theology. It will be readily seen, that the line of argument by which the two errors above specified are to be met, is nearly the same: viz. that of insisting upon the personality of the Word as distinct from the Father. For the Patripassian denied 'Theod. Hist. i. 4.

that the Word was in any real respect distinct from Him; the Emanatist, if he may so be called, denied that He was a Person, or more than an extraordinary manifestation of Divine Power. The Catholics, on the other hand, asserted His distinct personality; and necessarily appealed, in proof of this, to such texts as speak" of His pre-existent relations towards the Father; in other words, His ministrative office in the revealed Economy of the Godhead. And thus, being obliged from the course of the controversy, to dwell on this truly scriptural tenet, and happening to do so without a protest against a denial, as if involved in it, of His equality with the Father in the One Indivisible Divine Nature (a protest, which nothing but the actual experience of that denial among them could render necessary or natural), they were sometimes forced by the circumstances of the case into an apparent anticipation of the heresy, which afterwards arose in the shape of Arianism.

This may be illustrated in the history of the two great pupils of Origen, who, being respectively opposed to the two varieties of Sabellianism above described, the Patripassian and the Emanative, incurred odium in a later age, as if they had been forerunners of Arius: Gregory of Neocsesarea, and Dionysius of Alexandria.

The controversy in which Dionysius was engaged with the Patripassians of Pentapolis has already been adverted to. Their tenet of the incarnation of the Father (that is, of the one God without distinction of Persons), a tenet most repugnant to every scripturallyinformed mind, was refuted at once, by insisting on the essential character of the Son as representing and revealing the Father; by arguing, that on the very face of Scripture, the Christ who is there set before us, (whatever might be the mystery of His nature,) is certainly delineated as one absolute and real Person, complete in Himself, sent by the Father, doing His will, and mediating between Him and man; and that, this being the case, His Person could not be the same with that of the Father, who sent Him, by any process of reasoning, which would not also prove any two individual men to have one literal personality; that is, if there be any analogy at all between the ordinary sense of the word "person" and that in which the idea is applied in Scripture to the Father and the Son: for instance, by what artifice of interpretation can the beginning of St. John's Gospel, or the second chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians be made to harmonize with the notion, that the one God, simply became and is man, in every sense in which He can still be spoken of as God?

Writing zealously and freely on this side of the Catholic doctrine, Dionysius laid himself open to the animadversion of timid and narrow-minded men, who were unwilling to receive the truth in that depth and fulness in which Scripture reveals it, and who thought that orthodoxy consisted in being at all times careful to comprehend in one phrase or formula the whole of what is believed on any article of faith. The Roman Church, even then celebrated for its vigilant, perhaps its overearnest exactness, in matters of doctrine and discipline, was made the arbiter of the controversy. A council was held under the presidency of Dionysius its bishop (about

K

A.d. 260), in which the Alexandrian prelate was accused by the Pentapolitans of asserting that the Son of God is made and created, distinct in nature from the incommunicable essence of the Father, "as the vine is distinct from the vine-dresser," and in consequence, not eternal. The illustration imputed to Dionysius in this accusation, being a reference to our Lord's words in the fifteenth chapter of St. John, is a sufficient explanation by itself of the real drift of his statement, even if his satisfactory answer were not extant, to set at rest all doubt concerning his orthodoxy. In that answer, addressed to his namesake of Rome, he observes first, that his letter to the Sabellians, being directed against a particular error, of course contained only so much of the entire Catholic doctrine as was necessary for the refutation of that error;—that his use of the words "Father and Son," in itself implied his belief in a oneness of nature between Them;—that in speaking of the Son as "made," he had no intention of distinguishing "made" from "begotten," but, including all kinds of origination under the term, he used it to discriminate between the Son and His underived self-originating Father;—lastly, that in matter of fact he did confess the Catholic doctrine in its most unqualified and literal sense, and in its fullest and most accurate exposition. In this letter he even recognizes the celebrated Homoiision (eonsubstantial) which was afterwards adopted at Nicsea. However, in spite of these avowals, later writers, and even Basil himself, do not scruple to complain of Dionysius as having sown the first seeds of Arianism; Basil confessing the while that his error was accidental,

« PreviousContinue »