« PreviousContinue »
Now if he prophesies as an Angel of light, of course he will speak what is true. If he shall prophesy angelic and enlightened doctrine, he will prophesy what is profitable also; that is, at the time when he is thus changed in his apparent actions, far different as he is at bottom in his real apostasy. For how would be deceive, except by craftily leading on the inquirer by means of truth, to an intimacy with himself, and so at length seducing him into error? . . Therefore philosophy is not false, though he who is thief and liar speaks truth by a change in his manner of acting... The philosophy of the Greeks, limited and particular as it is, contains the rudiments of that really perfect knowledge which is beyond this world, which is engaged in intellectual objects, and upon those more spiritual, which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, before they were made clear to us by our Great Teacher, who reveals the holy of holies, and still holier truths in an ascending scale, to those who are genuine heirs of the Lord's adoption 8.”
What I have said about the method of teaching adopted by the Alexandrian, and more or less by the other primitive Churches, amounts to this; that they on principle refrained from telling unbelievers all they believed themselves, and further, that they endeavoured to connect their own doctrine with theirs, whether Jewish or pagan, adopting their sentiments and even their language, as far as they lawfully could. Some instances of this have been given ; more will follow, in the remarks which I shall now make upon the influence of Platonism on their theological language.
8 Strom. vi. 8.
The reasons, which induced the early Fathers to avail themselves of the language of Platonism, were various. They did so, partly as an argumentum ad hominem ; as if the Christian were not professing in the doctrine of the Trinity a more mysterious tenet, than that which had been propounded by a great heathen authority; partly to conciliate their philosophical opponents; partly to save themselves the arduousness of inventing terms, where the Church had not yet authoritatively supplied them; and partly with the hope, or even belief, that the Platonic school had been guided in portions of its system by a more than human wisdom, of which Moses was the unknown but real source. As far as these reasons depend upon the rule of the Economy, they have already been considered; and an instance of their operation given in the exoteric conduct of Athanasius himself, whose orthodoxy no one questions. But the last reason given, their suspicion of the divine origin of the Platonic doctrine, requires some explanation.
It is unquestionable that, from very early times, traditions have been afloat through the world, attaching the notion of a Trinity, in some sense or other, to the First Cause. Not to mention the traces of this doctrine in the classical and the Indian mythologies, we detect it in the Magian hypothesis of a supreme and two subordinate antagonist deities, in Plutarch's Trinity of God, matter, and the evil spirit, and in certain heresies in the first age of the Church, which, to the Divine Being and the Demiurgus, added a third original principle, sometimes the evil spirit, and sometimes matter'. Plato has adopted the same general notion; and with no closer or more definite approach to the true doctrine. On the whole, it seems reasonable to infer, that the heathen world possessed traditions too ancient to be rejected, and too sacred to be used in popular theology. If Plato's doctrine bears a greater apparent resemblance to the revealed truth than that of others, this is owing merely to his reserve in speaking on the subject. His obscurity allows room for an ingenious fancy to impose a meaning upon him. Whether he includes in his Trinity the notion of a First Cause, its active energy, and the influence resulting from it; or again, the divine substance as the source of all spiritual beings from eternity, the divine power and wisdom as exerted in time in the formation of the material world, and thirdly, the innumerable derivative spirits by whom the world is immediately governed, is altogether doubtful. Nay, even the writers who revived his philosophy in the third and fourth centuries after Christ, and embellished the doctrine with additions from Scripture, discover a like extraordinary variation in their mode of expounding it. The Maker of the world, the Demiurge, considered by Plato sometimes as the first, sometimes as the second principle, is by Julian placed as the second, by Plotinus as the third, and by Proclus as the fourth, that is, the last of three subordinate powers, all dependent on a First, or the One Supreme Deity'. In truth, speculations, vague and unpractical as these, made no impression on the minds of the heathen philosophers, perhaps as never being considered by them as matters of fact, but as allegories and metaphysical notions, and accordingly, caused in them no solicitude or diligence to maintain consistency in their expression of them.
9 Cudworth, Intell. Syst. i. 4, § 13. 16. Beausobre, Hist. de Manich. iv. 6, § 8, &c.
i Petav. Thcol. Dogm. tom. ii. i. 1, § 5.
But very different was the influence of the ancient theory of Plato, however originated, when it came in contact with believers in the inspired records, who at once discerned in it that mysterious Doctrine, brought out as if into bodily shape and almost practical persuasiveness, which lay hid under the angelic manifestations of the Law and the visions of the Prophets. Difficult as it is to determine the precise place in the sacred writings, where the Divine Logos or Word was first revealed, and how far He is intended in each particular passage, the idea of Him is doubtless seated very deeply in their teaching. Appearing first as if a mere created minister of God's will, He is found to be invested with an ever-brightening glory, till at length we are bid fall down as before the personal Presence and consubstantial Representative of the one God. Those then, who were acquainted with the Sacred Volume, possessed in it a key, more or less exact according to their degree of knowledge, for that aboriginal tradition which the heathen ignorantly but piously venerated, and were prompt in appropriating the language of philosophers, with a changed meaning, to the rightful service of that spiritual kingdom, of which a divine personal mediation was the great characteristic. In the books of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, and much more, in the writings of Philo, the Logos of Plato, which had denoted the divine energy in forming the world, or the Demiurge, and the previous all-perfect incommunicable design of it, or the Only-begotten, was arrayed in the attributes of personality, made the instrument of creation, and the revealed Image of the incomprehensible God. Amid such bold and impatient anticipations of the future, it is not wonderful that the Alexandrian Jews outstepped the truth which they hoped to appropriate; and that intruding into things not seen as yet, with the confidence of prophets rather than of disciples of Revelation, they eventually obscured the doctrine when diselosed, which we may well believe they loved in prospect and desired to honour. This remark particularly applies to Philo, who associating it with Platonic notions as well as words, developed its lineaments with so rude and hasty a hand, as to separate the idea of the Divine Word from that of the Eternal God; and so perhaps to prepare the way for Arianism”.
Even after this Alexandrino-Judaic doctrine had been corrected and completed by the inspired Apostles St. Paul and St. John, it did not lose its hold upon the Fathers of the Christian Church, who could not but discern in the old Scriptures, even more clearly than their predecessors, those rudiments of the perfect truth which
2 This may be illustrated by the theological language of the Paradise Lost, which, as far as the very words go, is conformable both to Scrip. ture and the writings of the early Fathers, but becomes offensive as being dwelt upon as if it were literal, not figurative. It is scriptural to say that the Son went forth from the Father to create the worlds; but when this is made the basis of a scene or pageant, it borders on Arianism. Milton has made Allegory, or the Economy, real. Vide infra, ch. ii. § 4, fin.