« PreviousContinue »
PREFA C E.
IT is now about three years and a half since I offered to the world a Vindication of Christ's Divinity, or, A Defence of some Queries, in answer to a Country Clergyman. Within a few months after the publication, some notice was taken of it in an anonymous pamphlet, entitled, Modest Plea, &c. Continued; or, A Brief Answer (not to my Defence, but) to my Queries. To which I replied, soon after, as much as I thought needful, in a Preface to my Eight Sermons. I was promised, in an Advertisement at the end of Modest Plea, &c. a large and pårticular answer to my Defence: and this, I presume, is what has now lately appeared, entitled, A Reply to Dr. WE's Defence, &c. under the name of A Clergyman in the Country. To this the following sheets are intended for a full and distinct answer : how far they are really so, or how far they come short, is submitted to the judicious reader.
The book, which I here profess to examine, may be allowed to contain, in a manner, the whole strength of the Arian cause, real or artificial; all that can be of any force either to convince or to deceive a reader. And if there appears to be a great deal more of the artificial than there is of the real, there is certainly a fault in the men; but, at the same time, some great defect in the cause too, which wanted to be thus supplied. For whether we consider the hands supposed to have been employed in drawing up the Reply, or the time and pains spent in revising and polishing, we may be confident, that had it been possible to find out any real and firm foundation for Arianism to rest upon, it would never have been left to
stand upon artificial props, or to subsist by subtilty and management.
This is not the place to give the reader a full list of all the artificial advantages made use of by those gentlemen in support of Arianism : a few hints may here suffice. Their disclaiming the name all the while they are inculcating the thing; to keep their readers in ignorance, and to steal upon them by surprise : their wrapping up their doctrine in generat and confuse terms; to prevent its being narrowly looked into, or pursued in its remote, or even immediate consequences : their elaborate and studied prolixity in proving such points as nobody calls in question, and then slipping upon the reader, in their stead, something very different from them, without any proof at all : their avoiding as inuch as possible the defensive part, where the main stress lies, and keeping themselves chiefly to the offensive; perpetually objecting to the Catholic scheme, instead of clearing up the difficulties which clog their own: their bending their main force against our consequential doctrine, of three Persons being one God, instead of directly attacking our premises, that the Divine titles and attributes belong equally to every one ; as to which the Scripture is very fall and express: these and other the like artifices will be easily seen to run through their whole performance. But their masterpiece of subtilty lies in contriving a set of ambiguous and equivocal terms, to put the main question into; such as may be capable of a Catholic sense, or at least look very like it, in order to claim some countenance from Catholic antiquity; but such as may also be drawn to an Arian meaning, that so they may secure the point which they intend. Thus, betwixt the two senses or faces of the same words, chosen for the purpose, they shall never want pretence or colour from antiquity, even while endeavouring to prove things the most opposite and repugnant thereto in real sense and significancy. Such is the convenient use of equivocal words or phrases, when ingeniously made choice of, and managed by rules of art.
In the following papers, I have particularly endeavoured to clear the sense of the Ante-Nicene Church; and to vindicate the same from misrepresentation. All that remains to be done in this Preface is to obviate two objections, of very different kinds, which have been lately made by men of very opposite principles. One a pretends that we are very singular, in claiming the suffrage of the Ante-Nicene Church in favour of the Athanasian doctrines: the other b is for entirely waving all searches into antiquity, in relation to this controversy, as being either needless or fruit
1. As to the first, we are confidently told, “ that few of “ the truly learned and impartial Athanasians themselves, “ from the very days of their founder, till our late writers “ of controversy, Bp. Bull, Dr. Grabe, Dr. Waterland, “ have denied the truth of this fact; that the Ante-Nicene “ Fathers were generally against the Athanasian, and for “ the Eusebian doctrinesc.” To countenance this pretence, a long and pompous detail of Athanasian Confessions (as they are called) are packed together, and laid before the English reader.
It will be proper here, in the entrance, to examine what truth or justice there is in this strange report; that so, prejudices being removed, the reader may come with the greater freedom to the examination of what is offered, in the following papers, on the head of antiquity.
We must trace this matter down from the first beginnings of the Arian heresy, about the year 319. It may be known from Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, what opinion the Catholics in general then had of the novelty of the Arian or Eusebiand doctrines.
In the year 321, he with his Clergy, in their circular
· Mr. Whiston in his reply to Lord Nottingham.
1 The author of Two Letters, one to Lord Nottingham, the other to Mr. Whiston. • Mr. Whiston's Reply to the Earl of Nottingham, p. 3.
Note, They were called Eusebians from Eusebius of Nicomedia, one of the chief promoters of the Arian cause.
lettere, represent the Arians or Eusebians as fallen into a great apostasy, and as forerunners of Antichrist. They exclaim against the Arian doctrines in this manner and in these words; “ Who ever heard such things as these? or who, “ that now hears them, is not astonished at them, does “ not stop his ears for fear of polluting his ears with such “ impurity of doctrine? Who that hears St. John declaring " that in the beginning was the Word, does not condemn “ those that say that he once was not ?”' &c. In conclusion of the Epistle, they compare them with Hymenæus and Philetus, and the traitor Judas : and they anathematize them as enemies to God, and subverters of souls. Now can we well suppose that Alexander, a very pious and good man, with great numbers of his Bishops and Clergy, would have gone these lengths in their censure, had they had the least suspicion that the Arian doctrines were at all agreeable to the faith of the Ante-Nicene churches ?
Two years after this, in the year 323, the same Alexander, in his letterf to Alexander of Constantinople, persists in the same warmth of zeal against the Arian doctrines. The abettors and favourers of them he ranks with the Ebionites, Artemonites, and Samosatenians , (condemned heretics,) brands them as novellists of late appearing h, as men that thought none of the ancients worthy to be compared with them, pretending to be the only wise men themselves, and to be inventors of doctrines which never before entered into man's headi. This was what Alexander thought of the Arians at that time. Little did he suspect that the Ante-Nicene Church had been at all favourable to their notions.
In the year 325, as is well known, the Arian doctrines were proscribed and anathematized in the famous Council of Nice, consisting of three hundred and eighteen Bishops,
• Extat apud Athanas. p. 397. ed. Bened. ap. Socrat. Eccl. Histor. lib. i. cap. 3.
r Extat Theodorit. E. Hist. lib. i. cap. 4. 6 Theodoret. E. H. p. 15. ed. Cant. + Ibid. p. 16.
i Ibid. p. 17.