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of the then known world, personal strangers, for the most part, to each other, and in a great measure unacquainted with each other's language. It is therefore but reasonable to allow, that, although they had been all of one mind respecting the fundamental doctrines of christianity, (as indeed the far greater number of them were), they might differ in the mode of delivering their sentiments of these doctrines, and of no one doctrine more readily, than that high and inexplicable mystery—a Trinity in Unity. Let it also be remembered, what a
legion” of heresies had, under various names, and with opposite views, infested the church, from the very days of the Apostles, down to that period; and that to combat the nonsensical errors of some of these heresies, without approaching, as it were, to the borders of others, was no easy matter for pious and well-ineaning men, unacquainted with metaphysical distinctions, and scholastic niceties, that great bane of after times. In proof of this, I need only mention what is recorded of Dionysius of Alexandria, no mean man in ecclesiastical history, that, in disputing against the doctrine of Sabellius, then growing prevalent, he incautiously dropped some expressions, savouring of what was afterwards termed Arianism ; for which expressions he was immediately reprehended by his brother Dionysius of Rome. “ Incidit in Scyllam cupiens vitare Charyb, dim,” though a trite adage, is certainly a just one : as our own experience shews, that many, in shun
ning the rock of superstition, have plunged themselves into the gulf of infidelity.
I might also bring to mind, the general ignorance of the language of the Old Testament, which prevailed in these early days, and the insufficiency of the Greek language, in which the Nicene creed is composed, fully to express the distinctive energy of the Hebrew, in descriptions of Deity, as well as the difficulty of adjusting the Greek idiom to the idiom of the several dialects that were then current in the christian world. For these and other obvious reasons, the only cause of wonder is, that, under so many and so great disadvantages, the Nicene creed should be what it is : not indeed what a fastidious critic would call an accurate, orderly, and well digested composition ; but a composition which, when candidly viewed, and with no eye to a particular system of opinion, must be acknowledged to be sufficiently adequate to the great object of refuting all antecedent heresies—more especially of establishing the real distinction of Persons against Sabellius, and the perfect equality of Nature against Arius—the two chief, and most dangerous of the whole heretical tribes.
Having made these preliminary observations, and being desirous, that this, the great object of the Creed drawn up by the Council of Nice, should be kept in view, I proceed, in the following letter, to examine, whether there be any thing in it, so de
cisive of the doctrine of eternal generation, as to constitute that doctrine, a necessary point of the christian faith.
THE first clause of the · Nicene Creed,' descriptive of the “ one Lord Jesus Christ,” viz. “ the only begotten Son of God,” has been considered already; and the appropriation of it to our Saviour's divine nature shewn to be unwarranted . The words which follow, “ begotten of his Father be
fore all worlds,” are adopted only, not originally framed by the authors of the creed. For we find them in the • Apostolical Constitutions, and hence transferred into every creed, to which Arian principles gave birth. And Arians, however erroneous in doctrine, yet being not defective in penetration, could never, in conformity with their principles, either use, or admit the words“ begotten of his Fa
* Letter II. p. 14.
" ther before all worlds,” in the high sense of eternity, which has been ascribed to them. Neither is it likely, that the Council would attach the first importance to, or lay much stress upon, a form of expression, to which their adversaries gave so hearty assent; although, knowing that it could bear a construction quite different from the Arian system, and quite reconcileable to their own faith, they might make use of it for the sake of peace and unanimity.
There is, however, one circumstance attending the words “ begotten of his Father before all “ worlds,” which requires to be accounted for. In the first draught of a creed, exhibited in the Council of Nice, there was the following addition to the above words, “ τατ' εσι εκ της σιας τ8 πατρGthat is to say, of the substance of the Father.” This is explicit, and had it been permitted to remain, would have determined the question. But the Fathers, it seems, had not thought it agreeable either to Scripture or tradition; for which reason it was rejected : and there is nothing in the clause, as it now stands, however solemnly and sincerely I profess my reception of it, and of the Nicene Creed at large, which requires me to believe that “ be
gotten of his Father before all worlds,” is of the same import with “ETERNALLY BEGOTTEN.” The source of all the perplexity and difference of opinion on this subject seems to be, the asfixing to the word begotten the modern idea of production into being, and applying that to the Deity in Christ,
with the addition of eternal, to make it sound the better. If we consult Scripture for the meaning of this word, besides this common use of it, we shall find it frequently applied to objects already in being', and therefore signifying not a production into bering, but a change of condition in the being already existing. A few hints on the subject will shew how this use of the word may be applied to the Nicene Creed.
In the first place, it will be allowed, that there is a generation or begetting belonging to Christ, as a præexistent being; by virtue of which it is said, and we do not stumble at the expression, that God was born of a woman, and the woman that bore him is called the mother of God. If then being begotten or born (the word for both is the same in Greek) of a mother, be not contrary to his præexistence as God, may not what is said of him in the creed, when stript of modern limitations, be allowed to carry the same latitude, and imply a præexistence too? I mention this only by way of analogy, and would ask, in the second place, what we believe to be the great object of divine revelation, as contained in the Bible? The answer, I hope, will be, that it is the gracious and glorious plan of redemption or recovery to fallen man, and a comfortable description, at sundry times, and in divers manners, of the Blessed One, by whom this E 291
great * St John i. 13. iii. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. (the word, though we read it born, is the same in Greek with that of the Creed), 1 St Pet. i. 3. St John iii. 9. V. 1.4. 18. Se, Compare Revel. xxi. 7.