« VorigeDoorgaan »
as containing a hidden account of Christ and his religion. The allegorical and mystical interpretations of which the epistle mostly consists present an extraordinary instance of blind stupidity aiming at discoveries." 66 Understand, children," says he, "these things more fully that Abraham, who was the first that brought in circumcision, performed it, after having received the mystery of three letters, by which he looked forward in the spirit to Jesus. For the scripture says that Abraham circumcised three hundred and eighteen men of his house. But what then was the mystery that was made known to him? Mark, first, the eighteen; and, next, the three hundred. For the numeral letters of ten and eight are IH. And these denote Jesus. And because the cross was that by which we were to find grace, he, therefore, adds three hundred; the numeral letter of which is T, the figure of the cross. Wherefore, by two letters he signified Jesus, and by the third, his cross. He who has put the ingrafted gift of his doctrine within us, knows that I never taught to any a more CERTAIN TRUTH; but I trust ye are worthy of it." "Such is one of the important discoveries our author communicates." If he never taught a greater truth than this, then everything else he taught was, by his own confession, a lie. Strange as it may seem, the later fathers, even those of undoubted learning, such as Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Clemens Alexandrinus, &c., appear to have been, by no means, insensible to the charms of their kind of nonsense." "The last, as well as the longest, of the works of the Apostolic Fathers, so called, is that effusion of second childishness, The Shepherd of Hermas. It was written at Rome by a brother of the bishop of that city; but it betrays an ignorant and imbecile mind, in absolute dotage. The author relates pretended visions, and introduces instructions which he received from an angel, who occasionally appeared to him, as he asserts, in the habit of a shepherd. But the conversation he attributes to his celestial visitants is more insipid than we commonly hear from the weakest of men." See Ancient History of Universalism, Chap. I.
II. Of the Christian Fathers, the most distinguished are the following: Justin Martyr, Titian, Hegesippus, Irenæus, Athanagorus, Theophilus, Clemens Alexandrinus, Tertullian, Origen, Demetrius, Alexander, Heracles, Ambrosius Firmilian, Gregory Thaumaturgos, Athanodorus, Cyprian, Dionycus, Nepos Methodius, Arnobius, Lactantius, Paul of Samosata, Pamphilus, Eusebius, Athanasius, Greg
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 ontain 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 between angels and women. He also believed that the Christians 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 carly 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 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, 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 appear! How shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how EXULT, when I behold so many kings, worshipped as gods in heaven, together with Jove himself, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness! so
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 REQUIRE TO BE DECEIVED." And he undertakes to defend the propriety 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 with Dr. Priestley, states the same fact. At page 160, he says, “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, surnamed “The Divine,” says, "A little jargon is all that is necessary 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 are desirous of being deceived. We cannot act otherwise respecting them." And a little further on he says, "For my own part, 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 Christian faith." See Opera, tom. 4, p. 113. Mosheim "especially includes in the same charge," Ambrose, bishop of Milan;