« AnteriorContinuar »
respond with the workings of the Spirit, described in the written word, as common to the children of God.
Tertullian was one of the most remarkable of the converts of Montanus ; but his doctrine perverted many of the Christians in Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Another sect arose at Alexandria, about the same time as that of the Montanists in Asia Minor. They were called Eclectics, like a heathen sect of philosophers before them, from a Greek word, signifying to choose, because they chose out what they considered to be true in all the different systems of philosophy, and tried to make them agree with the doctrines of the gospel. They were also called the New Platonists, because the system of Plato was considered by them superior to that of all other philosophers. Ammonius, the first celebrated teacher in the school at Alexandria, introduced a most dangerous and absurd opinion that the moral doctrines of Christianity might be di. vided into two parts, precepts and counsels; the former being of universal obligation, and the latter for the guidance of Christians of superior holiness. He, moreover, pretended that all the fables of Paganism might be interpreted so as to make them agree with his system of Christianity. Plotinus, the next teacher, added to the strange inventions of Ammonius; and by his means Platonism extended more widely and rapidly. But his successor, Origen, was, perhaps, the most injurious, because of his great zeal and apparent devotedness in the propagation of Christianity. Pantænus, also, who had been converted from Stoicism, and preached the Gospel in India, was a strong supporter of the Eclectic philosophy, because it enabled him to retain many of his old notions. Clement, one of his scholars, was still more celebrated as a defender of the same system. He asserted that the writings of the Gentiles served to prepare the soul for the spiritual seed, and to give it a deeper root. He, also, with many others, supposed the moral philosophy of the heathens to be necessary learning ; thus practically denying the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures “ for instruction in righteousness." Clement was a great admirer of such as went through much bodily exercise, frequent washings, and great hardships, in order to make themselves more holy; and to these, according to the ideas of Ammonius, he gave the name of “elect of the elect.” Some,
like the Pythagorean philosophers, abstained entirely from flesh, and others fasted for two or three days together.
Origen, whose natural disposition was very hardy and courageous, went beyond many of his school. When his father was martyred, in the persecution under Severus, he was quite a boy, but his zeal was so great that his mother only saved his life by confining him to the house. At the age of eighteen, he became master of the school at Alexandria, and was soon distinguished for his extraordinary talents. Throughout the persecution he was remarked for his attention to the martyrs, and often exposed himself to great danger by openly embracing them at the place of execution. He was not less noted for his manner of life, and the voluntary sufferings which he endured, either in the hope of becoming holy, or to increase his own reputation.
It was to persons of this description that the apostle alluded, when he warned the Colossian believers not to submit to the ordinances of men who said, touch not, taste not, handle not, such and such perishable things, and he adds, that such ordinances have indeed a show of wisdom but nothing more; for worship according to man's will, and not according to the Spirit, an exhibition of humility, and the punishing of the body, are but the fruits of the fleshly mind, and only tend to satisfy the flesh (Col. ii. 18—23).
Paul suffered hunger, cold, nakedness, thirst, &c. because he was necessarily exposed to them in the Lord's service; but he did not purposely seek such sufferings, for there were times when he could say, “I have all and abound;” and again, “every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.” He expresses in a few words the power of the new life in himself, the rule of the Spirit over the body, saying, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” And this seems to be the difference. The body of the believer was to be the servant, and not the master of the Spirit; it was to be yielded to God as a living sacrifice, and all its members as instruments of righteousnessbut the voluntary punishing and torturing of the body, now beginning in the Church, hindered the energy of the Spirit, and prevented true service to God.
The children of God, in all ages, have found spiritual blessing in occasional fasting with prayer ; and when the Spirit of God 176
LIGHT OF THE SCRIPTURES OBSCURED.
leads, it is most happy and profitable to follow. But fasting without prayer, and continued so long as to unfit the body for the Lord's service, would come under the description of a hard yoke and a heavy burden, and therefore could not be according to the mind of Christ.
The stated fasts soon adopted in the Church are another instance of the many turnings back to the past dispensation, and these observances, not being dictated or sustained by the Spirit of God, soon sank into worse than Jewish formality and hypocrisy. The most useful fruit of Origen's labours appears to have been the Hexapla, a work containing the Hebrew text of the Scriptures with the Septuagint, and four other Greek versions. The Latin translation of the Scriptures was, also, generally known in the churches throughout the Roman world ; but copies were very rare and valuable, as the manuscripts must be always obtained by great labour. But at the very time that one might have expected an increase of light by the multiplication of the copies of the Old Testament, and the more general extension of the books of the New Testament, the adversary had a new device for obscuring the light. Origen, in the course of his Eclectic studies, had obtained great credit by his ingenious interpretation of the Pagan mythology; and, at length, puffed up by his skill and learning, he dared to apply the same method of interpretation to the Holy Scriptures, and pretended that they were full of allegories, and should be studied in that light. Such an idea was likely to gratify the curious mind, and from that time the strangest fancies were taught, as the hidden meaning of the written word; and its plain sense was most grievously obscured for many ages.
It was probably at this period that the future restoration and blessing of the literal seed of Abraham, and all that concerns their city and their land, were put out of sight; and the Church began to seek and expect establishment and power upon earth, as it was asserted that all the promises to Jerusalem belonged to her alone.
The favour of the reigning emperor, whose history we are about to consider, possibly strengthened these new opinions ; whilst the hopes of the Jews, whom he favoured as much as the Christians, must also have risen high at the same period.
ALEXANDER SEVERUS, EMPEROR. — AN EXAMPLE OF DEVOUT
PAGANISM.-PROTECTION OF THE JEWS AND CHRISTIANS.END OF ALEXANDER AND HIS MOTHER.-SECOND PERSIAN EMPIRE. - THE MANICHEAN HERESY. -TEMPORARY PROSPERITY OF THE JEWS.
IN A. D. 222, Alexander, surnamed Severus, was only fourteen years of age when he succeeded Heliogabalus, so that his mother, Mammea, continued to guide him, and surrounded him with counsellors of her own choice. She was wiser, however, than her sister. Sæmias had displeased the haughty Romans by taking her seat in the senate-house, subscribing all the decrees, and voting as a regular member of the assembly; but Mammea secretly ruled by retaining the strongest influence over her son's mind, and concealed her power by allowing a law to be passed which excluded women from the senate-house for ever, in the strongest terms; devoting to the infernal gods any one who should attempt again to introduce them into the assembly.
Ulpian, a wise and humane minister, was the chief of the counsellors appointed by Mammea to assist her son in the cares of government, and with such help the young emperor appeared to rule as wisely as Trajan or Adrian. The daily life of Alexander, during the first seven years of his reign, is described as the perfection of devout Paganism. He rose early, and spent some time in a kind of domestic temple, adjoining his palace, which was filled with the statues of the chief gods, the worthiest emperors, and other great persons; and amongst these, Abraham, and even Christ, was introduced. From the meditations, or worship, suggested by these images, Alexander went to the councils of the state, as he had been well taught that the service of mankind should follow that of the gods. After a slight refreshment, he returned to business and remained with his secretaries till the evening, reading and answering the multitudes of letters and papers sent from all parts of the empire. The fatigue of business was occasionally relieved by the pleasures of study, and by the gymnastic exercises in which Alexander, who was tall, strong, and active,
CHARACTER OF ALEXANDER.
excelled all his companions. His table was served in a frugal manner, and his guests were the most learned and virtuous of the heathens, with whom he held serious conversation ; and the recital of some admired composition occupied the time usually engaged by singers or dancers. Alexander's dress was simple, and his manners courteous; his palace was open to all his subjects, but a crier standing at the door frequently repeated, according to the custom at Athens during the Eleusinian mysteries,“ Let none enter these holy walls unless he is conscious of a pure and innocent mind.”
Alexander favoured the Jews so much that he obtained the name of Archisynagogus (head of the synagogue); and, as a proof of his respect for the Christians, it is said, that when a tavern-keeper once came to claim a piece of ground on which they had built a place of meeting, the emperor refused it, saying, it was better God should be served there in any manner, than that it should be used as a tavern.
He also took up the precept, “Do as you would be done by ;" he had it inscribed on the walls of his palace and other public buildings, and desired a crier to repeat it aloud when any criminal was about to be punished.
In the appointment of provincial governors, this amiable emperor used to say he should make as strict inquiry into their characters and qualifications as the Jews and Christians did with regard to their teachers and rulers, for as men's lives and properties were entrusted to them, it was of great importance they should be well-known. Alexander is considered one of the best moral characters among the heathens; and, from the above facts, it appears he had understanding enough to value that degree of righteousness with which he was acquainted. Some of the more superficial among the Christians were, perhaps, deceived by his conduct; for it is observed by the ecclesiastical historian, Eusebius, that Mammea was “a most godly and religious woman;" as if godliness, or the religion of God, consisted in correct morality, without any love of God in the heart, or the life of God in the soul.
It does not appear that Alexander, or his mother, ever received the doctrine of Christ, though they might have had many opportunities of hearing of the way of salvation. When they were at Antioch, in A.D. 229, with the army that came there on account of an invasion of the Persians, Origen paid