« PreviousContinue »
Eusebius of Nicomedia, who in no sense belongs to Alexandria. But various motives have led theological writers to implicate this celebrated Church in the charge of heresy. Infidels have felt a satisfaction, and heretics have had an interest, in representing that the most learned Christian community did not submit implicitly to the theology taught in Scripture and by the Church; a conclusion, which, even if substantiated, would little disturb the enlightened defender of Christianity, who may safely admit that learning, though a powerful instrument of the truth in right hands, is no unerring guide into it. The Romanists, on the other hand, have thought by the same line of policy to exalt the Apostolical purity of their own Church, by the contrast of unfaithfulness in its early rival; and (what is of greater importance) to insinuate both the necessity of an infallible authority, by exaggerating the errors and contrarieties of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, and the fact of its existence, by throwing us, for exactness of doctrinal statement, upon the decisions of the subsequent Councils. In the following pages, I hope to clear the illustrious Church in question of the grave imputation thus directed against her from opposite quarters: the imputation of considering the Son of God by nature inferior to the Father, that is, of platonizing or arianizing. But I have no need to profess myself her disciple, though, as regards the doctrine in debate, I might well do so; and, instead of setting about any formal defence, I will merely
: [As to the charges made against Petavius, vide Bull, Defens. N. F. proæm.; Budd. Isagog. p. 580; Bayle, Dict. (Petau.); Brucker, Phil. t. iii. p. 315.]
place before the reader the general principles of her teaching, and leave it to him to apply them, as far as he judges they will go, in explanation of the language, which has been the ground of the suspicions against her.
St. Mark, the founder of the Alexandrian Church, may be numbered among the personal friends and associates of that Apostle, who held it to be his especial office to convert the heathen; an office, which was impressed upon the community formed by the Evangelist, with a strength and permanence unknown in the other primitive Churches. The Alexandrian may peculiarly be called the Missionary and Polemical Church of Antiquity. Situated in the centre of the accessible world, and on the extremity of Christendom, in a city which was at once the chief mart of commerce, and a celebrated seat of both Jewish and Greek philosophy, it was supplied in especial abundance, both with materials and instruments prompting to the exercise of Christian zeal. Its catechetical school, founded (it is said) by the Evangelist himself, was a pattern to other Churches in its diligent and systematic preparation of candidates for baptism; while other institutions were added of a controversial character, for the purpose of carefully examining into the doctrines revealed in Scripture, and of cultivating the habit of argument and disputation'. While the internal affairs of the community were administered by its bishops, on these academical bodies, as subsidiary to the divinely-sanctioned system, devolved
3 Cave, Hist. Literar. vol. i. p. 80.
the defence and propagation of the faith, under the presidency of laymen or inferior ecclesiastics. Athenagoras, the first recorded master of the catechetical school, is known by his defence of the Christians, still extant, addressed to the Emperor Marcus. Pantænus, who succeeded him, was sent by Demetrius, at that time bishop, as missionary to the Indians or Arabians. Origen, who was soon after appointed catechist at the early age of eighteen, had already given the earnest of his future celebrity, by his persuasive disputations with the unbelievers of Alexandria. Afterwards he appeared in the character of a Christian apologist before an Arabian prince, and Mammæa, the mother of Alexander Severus, and addressed letters on the subject of religion to the Emperor Philip and his wife Severa; and he was known far and wide in his day, for his indefatigable zeal and ready services in the confutation of heretics, for his various controversial and critical writings, and for the number and dignity of his converts`.
Proselytism, then, in all its branches, the apologetic, the polemical, and the didactic, being the peculiar function of the Alexandrian Church, it is manifest that the writings of its theologians would partake largely of an exoteric character. I mean, that such men would write, not with the openness of Christian familiarity, but with the tenderness or the reservewith which we are accustomed to address those who do not sympathize with us, or whom we fear to mislead or to prejudice against the truth, by precipitate disclosures of its details. The example of the inspired writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews was
* Philipp. Sidet. fragm. apud Dodw. in Iren. Huet. Origen.
their authority for making a broad distinction between the doctrines suitable to the state of the weak and ignorant, and those which are the peculiar property of a baptized and regenerate Christian. The Apostle in that Epistle, when speaking of the most sacred Christian verities, as hidden under the allegories of the Old Testament, seems suddenly to check himself, from the apprehension that he was divulging mysteries beyond the understanding of his brethren ; who, instead of being masters in Scripture doctrine, were not yet versed even in its elements, needed the nourishment of children rather than of grown men, nay, perchance, having quenched the illumination of baptism, had forfeited the capacity of comprehending even the first elements of the truth. In the same place he enumerates these elements, or foundation of Christian teaching , in contrast with the esoteric doctrines which the “long-exercised habit of moral discernment” can alone appropriate and enjoy, as follows ;-repentance, faith in God, the doctrinal meaning of the rite of baptism, confirmation as the channel of miraculous gifts, the future resurrection, and the final separation of good and bad. His first Epistle to the Corinthians contains the same distinction between the carnal or imperfect and the established Christian, which is laid down in that addressed to the Hebrews. While maintaining that in Christianity is contained a largeness of wisdom, or (to use human language) a profound philosophy, fulfilling those vague conceptions of greatness, which had led the aspiring intellect of the
- Hebr. v. 11 ; vi. 6. Tà otoixeia tîs åpxâs twv doylw Toù GE00. S της αρχής του Χριστού λόγος.
heathen sages to shadow forth their unreal systems, he at the same time insists upon the impossibility of man's arriving at this hidden treasure all at once, and warns his brethren, instead of attempting to cross by a short path from the false to the true knowledge, to humble themselves to the low and narrow portal of the heavenly temple, and to become fools, that they might at length be really wise. As before, he speaks of the difference of doctrine suited respectively to neophytes and confirmed Christians, under the analogy of the difference of food proper for the old and young; a difference which lies, not in the arbitrary will of the dispenser, but in the necessity of the case, the more sublime truths of Revelation affording no nourishment to the souls of the unbelieving or unstable.
Accordingly, in the system of the early catechetical schools, the perfect, or men in Christ, were such as had deliberately taken upon them the profession of believers ; had made the vows, and received the grace of baptism ; and were admitted to all the privileges and the revelations of which the Church had been constituted the dispenser. But before reception into this full discipleship, a previous season of preparation, from two to three years, was enjoined, in order to try their obedience, and instruct them in the principles of revealed truth. During this introductory discipline, they were called Catechumens, and the teaching itself Catechetical, from the careful and systematic examination by which their grounding in the faith was effected. The matter of the instruction thus communicated to them, varied with the time of their discipleship, advancing from the most simple principles of Natural Religion to the peculiar doctrines