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Christian controversialists were urged by objections to various passages in the history of the Old Testament, as derogatory to the Divine Perfections or to the Jewish saints, they had recourse to an allegorical explanation by way of answer. Thus Origen spiritualizes the account of Abraham's denying his wife, the polygamy of the Patriarchs, and Noah's intoxication”. It is impossible to defend such a mode of interpretation, which seems to imply a want of faith in those who had recourse to it. Doubtless this earnestness to exculpate the saints of the elder covenant is partly to be attributed to a noble jealousy for the honour of God, and a reverence for the memory of those who, on the whole, rise in their moral attainments far above their fellows, and well deserve the confidence in their virtue which the Alexandrians manifest. Yet God has given us rules of right and wrong, which we must not be afraid to apply in estimating the conduct of even the best of mere men; though errors are thereby detected, the scandal of which we ourselves have to bear in our own day. So far must be granted in fairness; but some have gone on to censure the principle itself which this procedure involved : viz. that of representing religion, for the purpose of conciliating the heathen, in the form most attractive to their prejudices : and, as it was generally received in the Primitive Church, and the considerations which it involves are not without their bearings upon the doctrinal question in which we shall be presently engaged, I will devote some space here to the examination of it.
2 Huet. Origen. p. 171, Rosenmuller supra. [On this subject, vide a striking passage in Facundus, Def. Tr. Cap. xii. 1, pp. 568-9.]
The mode of arguing and teaching in question which is called economical? by the ancients, can scarcely be disconnected from the Disciplina Arcani, as will appear by some of the instances which follow, though it is convenient to consider it by itself. If it is necessary to contrast the two with each other, the one may be considered as withholding the truth, and the other as setting it out to advantage. The Economy is certainly sanctioned by St. Paul in his own conduct. To the Jews he became as a Jew, and as without the Law to the heathen“. His behaviour at Athens is the most remarkable instance in his history of this method of acting. Instead of uttering any invective against their Polytheism, he began a discourse upon the Unity of the Divine Nature; and then proceeded to claim the altar 5, consecrated in the neighbourhood to the unknown God, as the property of Him whom he preached to them, and to enforce his doctrine of the Divine Immateriality, not by miracles, but by argument, and that founded on the words of a heathen poet. This was the example which the Alexandrians set before them in their intercourse with the heathen, as may be shown by the following instances.
Theonas, Bishop of Alexandria (A.D. 282–300), has left his directions for the behaviour of Christians who were in the service of the imperial court. The utmost
3 κατ' οίκονομίαν. : 4 [On the economies of St. Peter and St. Paul, vide Lardner's Heathen Test. ch. xxxvii. 7.]
5 [Vide this argument in the mouth of Dionysius (in Euseb. Hist. vii. 11, où Trávtes távtas, &c.) as his plea for liberty of worship, with the neat retort of the Prefect.]
caution is enjoined them, not to give offence to the heathen emperor. If a Christian was appointed librarian, he was to take good care not to show any contempt for secular knowledge and the ancient writers. He was advised to make himself familiar with the poets, philosophers, orators, and historians of classical literature ; and, while discussing their writings, to take incidental opportunities of recommending the Scriptures, introducing mention of Christ, and by degrees revealing the real dignity of His nature o.
The conversion of Gregory of Neocæsarea, (A.D. 231) affords an exemplification of this procedure in an individual case. He had originally attached himself to the study of rhetoric and the law, but was persuaded by Origen, whose lectures he attended, to exchange these pursuits, first for science, then for philosophy, then for theology, so far as right notions concerning religion could be extracted from the promiscuous writings of the various philosophical sects. Thus, while professedly teaching him Pagan philosophy, his skilful master insensibly enlightened him in the knowledge of the Christian faith. Then leading him to Scripture, he explained to him its difficulties as they arose ; till Gregory, overcome by the force of truth, announced to his instructor his intention of exchanging the pursuits of this world for the service of God'.
6 Rose's Neander, Eccl. Hist. vol. i. p. 145. “Insurgere poterit Christi mentio, explicabitur paullatim ejus sola divinitas.” Tillem. Mem. vol. iv. p. 240, 241.
7 This was Origen’s usual method, vide Euseb. Eccl. Hist. vi. 18. He has signified it bimself in these words : yuurdolov uév pauev elvai tas yuxñs Thy åv@pwrivnu ooplav, télos dè Thu Delav. Contr. Cels. vi. 13.
Clement's Stromateis (A.D. 200), a work which has already furnished us with illustrations of the Alexandrian method of teaching, was written with the design of converting the learned heathen, and pursues the same plan which Origen adopted towards Gregory. The author therein professes his wish to blend together philosophy and religion, refutes those who censure the former, shows the advantage of it, and how it is to be applied. This leading at once to an inquiry concerning what particular school of philosophy is to be held of divine origin, he answers in a celebrated passage, that all are to be referred thither as far as they respectively inculcate the principles of piety and morality, and none, except as containing the portions and foreshadowings of the truth. “By philosophy,” he says, “ I do not mean the Stoic, nor the Platonic, nor the Epicurean and Aristotelic, but all good doctrine in every one of the schools, all precepts of holiness combined with religious knowledge. All this, taken together, or the Eclectic, I call philosophy : whereas the rest are mere forgeries of the human intellect, and in no respect to be accounted divine 8.” At the same time, to mark out the peculiar divinity of Revealed Religion, he traces all the philosophy of the heathen to the teaching of the Hebrew sages, earnestly maintaining its entire subserviency to Christianity, as but the love of that truth which the Scriptures really impart.
The same general purpose of conciliating the heathen, and (as far as might be,) indulging the existing fashions to which their literature was subjected, may be traced in
8 Clein. Strom. i. 7.
the slighter compositions which the Christians published in defence of their religion', being what in this day might be called pamphlets, written in imitation of speeches after the manner of Isocrates, and adorned with those graces of language which the schools taught, and the inspired Apostle has exhibited in his Epistle to the Hebrews. Clement's Exhortation to the Gentiles is a specimen of this style of writing; as also those of Athenagoras and Tatian, and that ascribed to Justin Martyr.
Again :—the last-mentioned Father supplies us with an instance of an economical relinquishment of a sacred doctrine. When Justin Martyr, in his argument with the Jew Trypho, (A.D. 150.) finds himself unable to convince him from the Old Testament of the divinity of Christ, he falls back upon the doctrine of His divine mission, as if this were a point indisputable on the one hand, and on the other, affording a sufficient ground, from which to advance, when expedient, to the proof of the full evangelical truth”. In the same passage, moreover, as arguing with an unbeliever, he permits himself to speak without an anathema of those (the Ebionites) who professed Christianity, and yet denied Christ's divinity. Athanasius himself fully recognizes the propriety of this concealment of the doctrine on a fitting occasion, and thus accounts for the silence of the
9 noyou. [Such are those (Pagan) of Maximus Tyrius. Three sacred narratives of Eusebius Emesenus are to be found at Vienna. Augusti has published one of them : Bonn, 1820. Vide Lambec. Bibl. Vind. iv. p. 286.]
1 Dodwell in Iren. Diss. vi. § 14. 16. 2 Vide Bull, Judic. Eccl, vi. 7.