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ory Nazienzen, Gregory Nyssen, Didymus, Basil, Apollinarius, Epiphanius, Jerome, Evagrius, Theophilus, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, Isodorus Rufinus, Anastasius, Theodosius, Augustine Theodorus, Theodoret, Synesius, Jerome, and Hilary. That the opinion of these men on any important point is not deserving of any great weight, and ought not to be considered sufficient to settle any disputed subject of great importance, is evident from the following facts:
1. They were not inspired men. We might as well, therefore, appeal to the opinions of John Calvin, Martin Luther, and a host of others who have lived since their day, as to appeal to the opinions of either the Christian or Apostolic Fathers. Yea, we may as well trust to our own opinions as to trust to theirs.
2. In relation to some very important points, they differed among themselves. If we appeal to their testimony, then, we can prove Calvinism to be true, and we can prove it to be false. We can prove Arminianism to be false, and we can prove it to be true. We can prove Universalism to be a doctrine of devils, and we can prove it to be the truth of God. Who cannot see that such testimony defeats itself?
3. The Christian Fathers were no more competent, nor any better qualified, to understand the scriptures of the Old and New Testament, than we are at the present day. Indeed, they were not as much so, as their writings prove. The most distinguished of them were converts from some one of the various schools of heathen philosophy; and when they came over to Christianity, they brought many of their philosophical opinions with them. These they incorporated and blended with the Christian religion, and made up a system of theology, composed partly of Christianity and partly of heathen philosophy. They were in the habit of allegorizing and mystifying the Scriptures, instead of understanding them in their plain and obvious sense. This, of course, would have an effect to bewilder their minds, and prevent the light of truth from shining into their understandings. They were comparatively ignorant of the peculiar style and phraseology of the Hebrew language, which style was adopted by Christ and his apostles; and they were ignorant of all just rules of interpretation. By the aid of the light which has been thrown upon the various sciences since the days of these fathers, we enjoy better means and greater facilities for arriving at the true sense and meaning of the Scriptures than they did.
4. Of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, and of the early Christian Fathers, some are known to be forgeries, and the authenticity of others is very doubtful. Of those which are genuine, many of them are compositions such as any school-boy ought to be ashamed of, and contain within themselves certain evidence that the writers were either very weak, credulous or superstitious men, or most notorious liars. The book called The Sibylline Oracles was forged by some Christian or Christians, and palmed off upon the heathen as genuine. The Sibyls were supposed by the Greeks and Romans to be very ancient prophetesses of extraordinary inspiration; and this book was fabricated and ascribed to them, and then "sent into the world to convert the heathen by the pretended testimony of their own prophetesses. It is mortifying to relate that not one of the defenders of the faith at that day had the honesty to discard the fraud, even when it was detected by their heathen opponents." On the contrary, it was quoted as genuine; and its teachings urged as incontrovertible evidence by all the principal writers of that day; even by such men as Justin Martyr, Athanagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Clemens Alexandrinus, and the succeeding fathers. The genuineness of the epistles of Ignatius "has been attacked and defended with a zeal little proportioned to their worth or real weight in any cause whatever." And The Relation of the Martyrdom of Polycarp is thought to be a forgery. Justin Martyr was a man who lacked sober judgment; and was guilty of frequent mistakes in consequence of his carelessness and gross credulity. He believed in the existence of demons, and that they were the fruit of a connection He also believed that the Christians between angels and women. had power to exorcise the demons at pleasure. In fine, all his early heathen notions were only modified to his new religion. He " "applied and explained scripture without the least regard to rational interpretation." But we need not particularize. The fact is, that the writings of the Christian Fathers show, conclusively, that many of them were weak men; that all of them were extremely credulous; that they believed in demons, giants, and a thousand other vagaries which never had any existence except in the imagination of man. Even the great Origen himself believed that miracles might be performed by simply pronouncing the name Jesus. And the early fathers, "who, by the interposition of evil spirits, could so readily explain every preternatural appearance, were disposed, and even
desirous, to admit, and did admit, the most extravagant fictions of the Pagan mythology." The early fathers appealed to what they a called apostolic traditions to prove opposite doctrines, even when those pretended traditions were self-contradictory, and, therefore, of no authority whatever. Even those who are said to have been the disciples of the apostles, "adduced contrary traditions on one and the same point." Polycarp visited Anicetus, bishop at Rome, t about A. D. 150, and held an amicable discussion with him on the proper time for holding Easter. Each alleged apostolical tradition for his own time, in opposition to that of the other. See Eusebius' Eccl., lib. v., chap. 24, and Ancient History of Universalism, chap. 2. But there is one fact, which, if there were no other, would be sufficient of itself to show that no importance ought to be attached to the teachings of the Christian Fathers. It is this:
5. The Christian Fathers were guilty of forging books to prove their doctrines of believing what they did not teach, and of teaching what they did not believe. They sometimes employed known falsehood in support of their cause. "This pernicious artifice they are said to have derived from the Platonic paradox, that it is lawful to lie for the truth; but one would suppose it suggested by their own intemperate zeal, rather than by any maxims of philosophy. They forged books in support of their religion; a practice which it is said they borrowed from the heretics; and they propagated accounts of frequent miracles, concerning which all the earlier writers after the apostles had been silent." The following extracts from the writings of Tertullian will give some idea of the character of the man. Why am I not ashamed of maintaining that the Son of God was born? Why? because it is itself a shameful thing. I maintain that the Son of God died. Well, that is wholly credible, because it is monstrously absurd. I maintain that after having been buried he rose again; and that I take to be absolutely true, because it is manifestly impossible." "You are fond of your spectacles," said he, in allusion to the Pagans; "there are other spectacles that day disbelieved, derided by the nations, that last and eternal day of judgment, when all ages shall be swallowed up in one conflagration, what a variety of spectacles shall then ap pear! How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how EXULT, when I behold so many kings, worshipped as gods in heaven, togeth er with Jove himself, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness! so
THE APOSTOLIC AND CHRISTIAN FATHERS.
many magistrates, who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against Christians; so many sage philosophers blushing in raging fire, with their scholars whom they persuaded to despise God, and to disbelieve the resurrection; and so many poets shuddering before the tribunal, not of Rhadamanthus, not of Minos, but of the disbelieved Christ! Then shall we hear the tragedians more tuneful under their own sufferings; then shall we see the players far more sprightly amidst the flames; the charioteer all red-hot in his burning car; and the wrestlers hurled, not upon the accustomed list, but on a plain of fire." See Tertul. De Spectaculis, C. 39, and De Spectaculis, C. 30. The opinions. of a man who could write such nonsense as is contained in the first extract, or who could possess such a spirit as is manifested in the last, are deserving of no weight whatever. The great ecclesiastical historian, Eusebius, heads chap. 31, of Book 12, of his "Evangelical Preparation," thus: "How FAR IT MAY BE PROPER TO USE FALSEHOOD AS A MEDICINE, AND FOR THE BENEFIT OF THOSE WHO And he undertakes to defend the proREQUIRE TO BE DECEIVED." priety of using falsehood by appealing to pretended examples in the Old Testament. Origen avowed the same principle. See Mosheim's Dissertations, p. 203. Bishop Horsley, in his controversy At page 160, he says, with Dr. Priestley, states the same fact. "Time was when the practice of using unjustifiable means to serve a good cause was openly avowed, and Origen himself was among its defenders." Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople, defended the same doctrine. See Mosh. Diss., p. 205. Gregory of Nazienzen, surA little jargon is all that is necessary named "The Divine," says, to impose on the people. The less they comprehend the more they admire. Our forefathers and doctors of the church have often said, not what they thought, but what circumstances and necessity dictated to them." Synesius, bishop of Ptolemais, says, "The people We cannot act otherwise respectare desirous of being deceived. "For my own part, ing them." And a little further on he says, to myself I shall always be a philosopher; but, in dealing with the mass of mankind, I shall be a priest." See Cave's "Ecclesiastica," p. 115. St. Jerome says, "I do not find fault with an error which proceeds from a hatred towards the Jews, and a pious zeal for the espeChristian faith." See Opera, tom. 4, p. 113. Mosheim " cially includes in the same charge," Ambrose, bishop of Milan;
Hilary, bishop of Poictiers, and Augustine, bishop of Hippo, in Africa, “whose fame," says Mosheim, "filled, not without reason, the whole Christian world. We would willingly," he adds, "except them from this charge; but truth, which is more respectable than these venerable fathers" (amen), "obliges us to involve them in the general accusation." Dr. Chapman, in his "Miscellaneous Tracts," page 191, says, "The learned Mosheim, a foreign divine and zealous advocate for Christianity, who, by his writings, has deserved the esteem of all good and learned men, intimates his fears that those who search with any degree of attention into the writings of the fathers and most holy doctors of the fourth century, will find them all, without exception, disposed to lie and deceive, whenever the interests of religion require it." "The learned Dodwell," in a work published by him, "abstains from producing more proofs of ancient Christian forgeries," "through his great veneration for the goodness and piety of the fathers." What a strange and inconsistent reason was this!
For publishing the above facts to the world we may be censured by some, but we have long since adopted the maxim, "let the truth be told though the heavens fall;" and the above facts being truths, we fearlessly proclaim them. In relation to those who would censure us for so doing, we have only to say, their opinions are of no more consequence than the opinions of the Christian Fathers themselves. Such, reader, was the character and such was the conduct of the Christian Fathers. And yet they have been called “Christian Fathers." That very title which Jesus instructed his disciples to apply to no man on earth, has been applied to them; even by those who profess to be the disciples of Christ. They have been called "pious saints," and "most holy fathers." But, if such conduct as they were guilty of does not manifest depravity, then we have no evidence that depravity exists in any man on earth. If they were deserving of these high and honorable titles, where is the man who is not? They have been sainted and canonized, and their intercession in behalf of sinners has been supplicated by those calling themselves Christians. And to this day their authority is thought, by Catholics and Episcopalians, to be very important in settling controverted points of doctrine. These, then, are to be our oracles, are they? No; we acknowledge no oracles except the oracles of God, contained in the Old and New Testament. These