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so, though the one was compiled about A.D. 300, and the other A.D. 500.1 Eusebius, again, is very uncertain in his notice of facts: he does not speak of St. Methodius, nor of St. Anthony, nor of the martyrdom of St. Perpetua, nor of the miraculous powers of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus; and he . mentions Constantine's luminous cross, not in his Ecclesiastical History, where it would naturally find a place, but in his Life of the Emperor. Moreover, those who receive that wonderful occurrence, which is, as one who rejects it allows, 2 “so inexplicable to the historical inquirer," have to explain the difficulty of the universal silence on the subject of all the Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, excepting Eusebius.
In like manner, Scripture has its unexplained omissions. No religious school finds its own tenets and usages on the surface of it. The remark applies also to the very context of Scripture, as in the obscurity which hangs over Nathaniel or the Magdalen. It is a remarkable circumstance that there is no direct intimation all through Scripture that the Serpent mentioned in the temptation of Eve was the evil spirit, till we come to the vision of the woman and child, and their adversary, the Dragon, in the twelfth chapter of the Revelations.
Omissions, thus absolute and singular, when they occur in the evidence of facts or doctrines, are of course difficulties ; on the other hand, very frequently they admit of explanation. Silence may arise from the very notoriety of the facts in question, as in the case of the seasons, the weather, or other natural phenomena; or from their sacredness, as the Athenians did not mention the mythological Furies; or from external constraint, as the omission of the statues of Brutus and Cassius in the procession. Or it may proceed from fear or dis
Paley's Evid. p. i. prop. 1,7. 3 Milman, Christ. vol. ii. p. 352.
gust, as on the arrival of unwelcome news; or from indignation, or hatred, or contempt, or perplexity, as Josephus is silent about Christianity, and Eusebius passes over the death of Crispus in his life of Constantine; or from other strong feeling, as implied in the poet's sentiment, “Give sorrow words;" or from policy or other prudential motive, or propriety, as Queen's Speeches do not mention individuals, however influential in the political world, and newspapers after a time were silent about the cholera. Or, again, from the natural and gradual course which the fact took, as in the instance of inventions and discoveries, the history of which is on this account often obscure; or from loss of documents or other direct testimonies, as we should not look for theological information in a treatise on geology.
Again, it frequently happens that omissions proceed on some law, as the varying influence of an external cause; and then, so far from being a perplexity, they may even confirm such evidence as occurs, by becoming, as it were, its correlative. For instance, an obstacle may be assignable, fact, or principle, or law, which ought, if it really exists, to reduce or distort the indications of its presence to that very point, or in that very direction, and with the variations, and in the order and succession, which occur in its actual history. At first sight it might be a suspicious circumstance that but one or two manuscripts of some celebrated document were forthcoming; but if it were known that the sovereign power had exerted itself to suppress and destroy it at the time of its publication, and that the extant manuscripts were found just in those places where history witnessed to the failure of the attempt, the coincidence would be highly corroborative of that evidence which alone remained.
This is a principle familiar in mixed sciences, as often as an abstract truth has to be extracted from
laws he reductor are not roof bye
physical facts, as they present themselves to the experimentalist. Thus a writer on Mechanics, after treating of the laws of motion, observes, “ These laws are the simplest principles to which motion can be reduced, and upon them the whole theory depends. They are not indeed self-evident, nor do they admit of accurate proof by experiment, on account of the great nicety required in adjusting the instruments and making the experiments; and on account of the effects of friction, and the air's resistance, which cannot entirely be removed. They are, however, constantly, and invariably, suggested to our senses, and they agree with experiment as far as experiment can go; and the more accurately the experiments are made, and the greater care we take to remove all those impediments which tend to render the conclusions erroneous, the more nearly do the experiments coincide with these laws."1 And thus a converging evidence for facts or doctrines through a certain period may, under circumstances, be as cogent a proof of their presence throughout that period, as the Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus.
And so with respect both to the Canon and the Creed: “We depend upon the fourth and fifth centuries thus:-As to Scripture, former centuries do not speak distinctly, frequently, or unanimously, except of some chief books, as the Gospels; but we see in them, as we believe, an ever-growing tendency and approximation to that full agreement which we find in the fifth. The testimony given at the latter date is the limit to which all that has been before said converges. For instance, it is commonly said, Exceptio probat regulam; when we have reason to think that a writer or an age would have witnessed so and so, but for this or that, and that this or that were mere accidents of his position, then he or it may be said to tend towards such tes
1 Wood's Mechan. p. 31.
timony. In this way the first centuries tend towards the fifth Viewing the matter as one of moral evidence, we seem to see in the testimony of the fifth the very testimony which every preceding century gave, accidents excepted, such as the present loss of documents once extant, or the then existing misconceptions which want of intercourse between the Churches occasioned. The fifth century acts as a comment on the obscure text of the centuries before it, and brings out a meaning, which with the help of the comment any candid person sees really to be theirs. And in the same way as regards the Catholic creed, though there is not so much to explain and account for. Not so much; for no one, I suppose, will deny that in the Fathers of the fourth century it is as fully developed, and as unanimously adopted, as it can be in the fifth. And, again, there had been no considerable doubts about any of its doctrines previously, as there were doubts about the Epistle to the Hebrews or the Apocalypse; or, if any, they were started by individuals, as Origen's about eternal punishment, not by Churches, or at once condemned by the general Church, as in the case. of heresies, or not about any primary doctrine, such as the Incarnation or Atonement: and all this in spite of that want of free intercourse which occasioned doubts about portions of the Canon. Yet, in both cases, we have at first an inequality in the evidence, for what was o afterwards universally received as divine ;—the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and of Episcopacy, and, again, the four Gospels, being generally witnessed from the first; but certain other doctrines,' being at first rather practised and assumed than insisted on, as the necessity of infant baptism; and certain books, as the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse, doubted or not admitted in particular countries. And as the unanimity of the fifth century as regards the Canon clears up and
overcomes all previous differences, so the abundance of the fourth as to the Creed interprets, develops, and combines all that is recondite or partial in previous centuries as to doctrine, acting similarly as a comment, not indeed, as in the case of the Canon, upon a perplexed and disordered, but upon a concise text. In both cases, the after centuries contain but the termination of the testimony of the foregoing.” 1
And if this be true in a case in which development of doctrine is not supposed, much more will it hold when the doctrine itself in question is growing, and an increase in the evidence does but faithfully represent the condition of the original on which it depends.
Thus it is possible to have too much evidence; that is, evidence so full or exact as to throw suspicion over the case for which it is adduced. The genuine Epistles of St. Ignatius contain none of those ecclesiastical terms, such as “ Priest” or “ See,” which are so frequent afterwards; and they quote Scripture sparingly. The interpolated Epistles quote it largely; that is, they are too Scriptural to be Apostolic. Few persons, again, who are acquainted with the primitive theology, but will be sceptical at first reading of the authenticity of such works as the longer Creed of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, or St. Hippolytus contra Beronem, from the precision of the theological language.
The influence of circumstances upon the expression of opinion or testimony supplies another form of the same law of omission. “I am ready to admit," says Paley, “ that the ancient Christian advocates did not insist upon the miracles in argument so frequently as I should have done. It was their lot to contend with notions of magical agency, against which the mere production of the facts was not sufficient for the convincing of their adversaries; I do
Tracts for the Times, vol. v. pp. 102—104.