Page images
PDF
EPUB

new and heretical opinions. He attempts to sustain his theory by quoting various terms and phrases employed by Hermas, Dionysius of Alexandria, and Dionysius of Rome. Athanasius accepts the challenge, makes an appeal himself to the established churcb doctrine, introduces additional authors, such as Theognostus and Origen, and refutes Arius with triumphant success. While he vindicates the char. acter of the early writers whom Arius attempts to associate with himself, he proves that the latter is the sole source whence all the heresies of his party proceeded. Voigt has given many details respecting this part of the controversy, which, as our Article has already reached an undue length, we omit.

If we, in conclusion, summarily view the contest between Athanasius and Arianism, and investigate its results, we reach the following conclusion: In this contest respecting the most important and precious truths of the gospel, Athanasius availed himself fully of all the resources which were furnished to him by the theological science of his age; the truth that had been set forth in the Nicene symbol gained an abiding victory. Arius may have been a man of ordinary abilities; he simply represented distinguished indi. viduals of the oriental church whose doctrinal opinions he was the first to proclaim openly with boldness and consistency. In him, all who sustained his views were defeated by Athanasius. The latter proved conclusively, when the doctrine of the church was assailed by dialectic arguments, that it by no means involved the contradictions with which its opponents charged it ; while he convicted the Arian system of numerous contradictions, he demonstrated that the unexplored depths and the mysteries which the church doctrine confessedly, like many other subjects of human knowledge, presented to man, were to be ascribed to his limited knowledge, or to the limited powers of his mind. He preferred, however, to explain and defend bis doctrine, not so much by arguments derived from reason, as by those which

the scriptures or revelation afforded. Sustained by the latter, he deprived the Arians of every available weapon, and surrounded the church doctrine with fortifications which were impregnable ; this result is not enfeebled by the fact that his exegesis of various passages of scripture is obviously defective. The consciousness of the believer, too, whose hopes are founded on the redeeming work of the Son of God, supplied him with convincing arguments against the Arian scheme. And, finally, he proved that the faith of the church in Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, had uninterruptedly borne testimony against the fundamental error of Arianism.

Some weak points unquestionably appear in the apologetic and polemic statements of Athanasius, which may be ultimately traced to the imperfect development of theological science in his age. Nevertheless, the controversy in which he engaged, was, in view of its subject and its permanent results, a source of rich blessings to the Christian church. The reason of man, guided by its own dubious light, may still produce theories which exhibit in a greater or less degree an Arian taint; the church can survey the rise of such errors without alarm, for her whole history, since the age of Athanasius, gives her the assurance that they will soon disappear. The Nicene faith, founded on the rock of the word of God, and endowed with imperishable vitality in the consciousness of the believer, has been assailed in every succeeding age, and has triumphed in every contest; the attempts to overthrow it have invariably been ineffectual, and have simply resembled waves of the sea which the passing breeze temporarily calls into action, but which subside and disappear as rapidly as they arose.

ARTICLE II.

THE CARAITES.

BY THE REV. CHARLES H. BRIGHAM, TAUNTON, MASS.

In one of the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, in a house of moderate size, marked among the rest by its peculiar whiteness and neatness, a small community of some five-and-thirty souls dwell separate from the rest of their race. It is their boast and their consolation that they are the oldest inhabitants of the Holy City since the destruction of the second temple. They have suffered from plague, from famine, from persecution, from apostasy, until their numbers are reduced to this little band; but they still keep their union, their ritual, their purity of doctrine, and the precious volume of their ancient law. Under their house, in a subterranean chamber, lighted through a small square opening in the roof, and by a little glass chandelier with four oil lamps, strangely confusing the artificial with the natural gleam, is the synagogue, which, small as it is, has room for a larger company than the household dwelling above it. Upon the sacred ark is a silver plate inscribed in golden letters with the ancient creed of Israel: “ The Lord our God is one Lord.” Not from a roll, as in other synagogues, but from a book of parchments, the pages decorated with arabesques and illuminated initial letters, is the service chanted. This manuscript bears date of the sixth century, and carries back the possessors to an age earlier than the authentic beginning of the sect; for this little community, gathered in one house, is all that remains here of that important body of reformed Jews, that in the eighth and ninth ages were honored by the name of “ Jerusalemites,"

Geschichte des Karäerthums bis 900. Eine kurze Darstellung seiner Entwickelung Lehre und Literatur mit den dazugehörigen Quellennachweisen. Von Dr Julius Fürst. Leipsic: 1862. 8vo. pp. vi & 186.

[ocr errors]

but are better known to us (though not much known to any Christians) by their name of Caraites.

The name Caraite, from the Hebrew Kara, to read or recite, describes the radical difference of this sect from the other Jewish sects. They are textualists in opposition to the traditionalists. They hold to the letter of scripture, in opposition to the forms of its various interpretation, and to the accretions by which the rabbins have overloaded and superseded it. This general difference has always been recog. nized, though beyond this, the information of scholars con. cerning the peculiarities of the sect has been sufficiently meagre. Very few eastern travellers have made any mention of their customs, and the studies of orientalists have but slightly noticed their literature and their dogmas. Benja. min of Tudela observes that in Damascus, in the twelfth century, there were about two hundred Caraites and four hundred Samaritans living on friendly terms together, but not intermarrying ; yet he does not tell us the names of their rabbins, or the details of their life. The Christian writers rarely even mention the sect. But recent German investigations, particularly by the accomplished scholar Júlíus Fürst, have brought to light many interesting facts about the origin and early history of the Caraites, and have established its bigh importance in the development of Jewish thought. In this Article we propose to condense and exhibit some of these facts, and to speak of the Caraites as they were in the days of their influence and their leading teachers. This period of prosperity in the sect was short, lasting only a century and a half. For nearly a thousand years the sect has been in the position of a schism, too insignificaut to be feared, living only in a lingering death, its largest communities numbered only by hundreds.

The origin of Caraisın is to be found in a period long anterior to its actual beginning as a sectarian system of doctrine. Its source reaches back to that age when the contest of Pharisee and Sadducee first divided the Jewish church. The Sadducees were not in all respects as the

later Caraites. Some things which they denied, the Caraites believed; and some things which they upheld, the Caraites neglected. Yet the ground principle of both sects was the same - opposition to tradition and jealous attachment to the text of the law. Caraism was the resuscitation and regeneration of Sadducism, a thousand years after its first birth. In the fourth century before Christ, a party had arisen in the Jewish community which opposed to Pharisaic gloss, and commentary a strict literalism, and denied equally the burdensome additions and the unwarranted mitigations which the rulers of the synagogue - the soferim or “scribes” – had brought to the Mosaic code. The Sadducees maintained that man's will is free, that God is not the author of sin, and that no form of fatalism is taught in the scripture; that the happiness or misery of men is the result of their own choice and conduct, and is the sign, not of divine wrath or favor, but of individual sin or virtue. Finding no doctrine of a future life in the sacred history, they denied all separate existence to the soul, all retribution beyond the present life, and especially that notion of a resurrection which the wars of the Maccabees bad confirmed as consolation for Israel in its faintness. They found in the words of Moses no warrant for the idea that the dead should come forth from their graves, or that there should be any renewal of the finished earthly life. To this rejection of all spiritual and future life for man, the Sadducees added a rejection of the Persian doctrine of angels and spirits, which, after the Babylonish exile, had been adopted into the Pharisaic system. The seven archangels of the Book of Tobit, and such visions as those related in the second book of Maccabees, were emphatically denounced as unreal and impious. In their interpretation of the law, while the Sadducees allowed free inquiry, in opposition to the authoritative decisions of the scribes, they were still strict constructionists upon particular statutes. They agreed with the Pharisees in not allowing a daughter to inherit from a father's estate while sons were alive, but contended that this prohibition did not VOL. XXI. No. 81.

6

« PreviousContinue »