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of the Mysteries. The origin of this discipline is traced by Mr. Faber up to the middle of the second century. And, whether the grand secret inculcated were the doctrine of the Trinity, in particular, or the vital peculiarities of the Christian faith, collectively, we greatly suspect that Dr. Priestley and his disciples, had they been among the primitive converts, would have looked exceedingly blank and awkward as the business of initiation proceeded. It is to be feared that they would never have gone through the process necessary to qualify them for retaining their rank among the Competentes. They would, probably, have remained for ever in the condition of Catechumens!
It may be worth while to look back, for a moment, upon the nature and origin of the practice in question. The whole scheme of Christian Redemption, it will be remembered, is spoken of by St. Paul as a mystery, laid up for ages in the mind of God, and not fully revealed to his Church until the latter days. This notion was, probably, caught up by the early Christian writers. They were surrounded with heathens, the most intelligent of whom were often boasting of the secrets revealed in the great mysteries of Paganism. All this while, the Christians were conscious that they were in possession of a secret incomparably more precious than the priests or the philosophers of their time were able to impart. It was, therefore, not very unnatural that they should adopt the imposing term, which had been sanctioned by the example of an Apostle, and apply it to the profounder doctrines of their own faith. But, further than this,—nothing could be more expedient, or rather, more necessary, than the practice of opening the Christian system to their proselytes in a course of gradual instruction. It was, likewise, a prudent measure of precaution, to charge those of their converts who had completed their course, that they should abstain from all allusion to the wonders which had been disclosed to them, in the presence of their watchful adversaries, lest ignorance or malice should distort or misrepresent their statements. Unfortunately, however, all this was done with so much needless affectation of solemnity, that, to us, it almost bears the aspect of something like a pompous juggle, unworthy of the professors or the teachers of a pure and simple faith. The adept was not only rigorously forbidden to reveal the "mystic wonders" to them that were without he was even bound to conceal them from the most forward and impatient Catechumen: for the appropriate instruction of the Catechumen was comparatively general and elementary; and to pour the "awful secrets" into his ear, would be like "giving wine to a sick man." Instead of imparting health and vigour, it would only" drive him to frenzy; in consequence of which, the patient
would die, and the physician would be blamed." were only a Catechumen," says Cyril of Jerusalem, "I did not reveal the Mysteries to you; and when, by experience, you shall have learned their sublimity, you will then perceive that the mere Catechumens are unworthy to hear them. But reveal them not in anywise either to the Catechumens, or to those who are not Christians; lest you should thus make yourself accountable to the Lord." But though the Catechumens were not worthy to receive this hidden wisdom, it was frequently found necessary to communicate it to the world at large, without reserve. When the Religion was assailed with calumny and scorn, it would unavoidably become the duty of its champions to disclose the whole truth, as it is in Jesus, in all its length and height and breadth and depth. The mystagogue was then compelled to draw the veil aside, and to discard the mysterious phraseology of the hierophant. And hence it was that the words which a disciplé might tremble to hear, were nevertheless broadly proclaimed, as it were upon the house-top.
What was the precise course of instruction given, in the earlier ages, to the Catechumens, when they were transferred to the class of Competentes, it may not be very easy to determine. Nothing, however, would be more natural, or more prudent, than the practice of reserving for the later stages of the Christian erudition, a full exposition of the relations between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and of the several offices of each in the economy of Redemption. But that the doctrine of the Trinity was, at any time, the sole "palmary secret," seems very far from certain. If, indeed, the testimony of Jerome may be accepted, relative to the long-established usage of the Church, that doctrine formed the chief, though not necessarily the only, topic, in which the proselytes were "illuminated," during the forty days of Lent, immediately subsequent to their catechetical course of discipline. And if this were so, it would be abundantly sufficient for our purpose. If "the holy and adorable Trinity" were but among the things delivered in the Christian mysteries, from the earliest times, that circumstance would, of course, add confirmation to the other evidence, relative to the nature of the primitive belief. But, at all events-mysteries or no mysteries-it is obvious that the fundamental doctrines of Christianity must, at some period or other in the course of their preparation, have been communicated to the converts from heathenism. And it is clear enough, that those doctrines were taught in such a manner, as must effec
* "Consuetudo autem apud nos istiusmodi est, ut iis qui baptizandi sunt, per quadraginta dies publicè tradamus Sanctam et adorandam Trinitatem."-Jerom. Epist. ad Pammach, adv. error. Joan. Hieros. Op. Tom. ii. p. 167. Ed. Bas. 1553.
tually have repelled Dr. Priestley from all communion with the ancient Church.
The next head of evidence is the unanimous primitive interpretation, of texts now litigated. And in this department of his process, the author has laboured with exemplary diligence and success. It is asserted by Dr. Priestley that these litigated texts did not convey to primitive Christians the modern notions of the Divinity and pre-existence of Christ. What notions the contested passages conveyed to the Ebionites, who were the earliest Humanitarians, it would be vain to inquire; for those ingenious persons did not expound the litigated texts at all. They went a much shorter way to work: they got rid of them! They received no part of the New Testament, except the Gospel of St. Matthew, and they mutilated and corrupted that. But, if any conjecture may be formed respecting their sense of these texts, it was, in all likelihood, precisely because they did irresistibly convey the modern notions of Christ's Divinity and pre-existence, that the Ebionites rejected the whole body of the Christian Scriptures, except the single fragment which they could mould to their own purposes. With regard to the great mass of the Catholic Christians, nothing can well be more certain than the fact-that they found in the texts in question no doctrine at all resembling that of the simple humanity of Christ. It seems not to have been the pleasure of Dr. Priestley to support, by the production of a single instance, his notable averment that the early believers could discern in the now disputed parts of Scripture no traces whatever of our Saviour's pre-existence or divinity. Mr. Faber, on the contrary, has produced a host of instances in support of the contrary proposition. And, moreover, he has not confined himself to authorities from the New Testament. His Appendix exhibits a long list of scriptural passages, from Genesis to Revelations, together with the Trinitarian expositions of those passages, from the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. To be sure, the expositions which we sometimes meet with in the writings of these ancient worthies, are most ludicrously fantastical; as, for instance, when the prolation of the Word is discovered by Tertullian in the passage, “Eructavit cor meum Sermonem optimum:" or, when, in Ps. xcix. 5, " Exalt ye the Lord God and worship at his footstool," the footstool is "understood as an emblem of the flesh of Christ, which is to be worshipped on account of Christ:" and, again—when Origen doth gravely illustrate the words of Ps. cviii. 9, " Over Edom will I cast out my shoe," with the following ingenious and fruitful exposition; "the flesh is the shoe of Christ, which the Lord made use of, and sojourned *Fab. vol. i. 307-375. See Bp. Kaye on Tertull. 549.
See Burton, Ante-Nicene Fathers, p. 292.
in the life of man!"* Capriccios like these, may, perhaps, be thought almost enough to stultify the judgment of any adventurer in scriptural interpretation. But, at all events, they show that the doctrine of Christ's divinity, instead of being unknown before the Council of Nice, had got complete possession of the minds of catholic expositors; so complete, indeed, that they seem at times, to have been ashamed of no extravagance, in their anxiety to maintain that doctrine. It is plainly and literally true, that the very absurdities of these expositors may be arrayed against the affirmation of Dr. Priestley: for, so far is it from being the fact, that they were unable to see what he is pleased to call the modern doctrine, in the texts which appear most obviously to inculcate it, that they contrived to find it where no mortals but themselves would have ever dreamed of looking for it. This consideration, most unquestionably, will not be sufficient to establish their character for judicious interpretation; but it must, at least, be sufficient to show that they were anything but humanitarian and unipersonal commentators on Scripture. After all, however, these whims and fantasies of theirs are but occasional eruptions of folly. Their expositions are, in general, of a much more sound material and texture. They form, altogether, an imperishable monument of the primitive opinions. For it is quite inconceivable that the most venerated masters should uniformly have adopted one scheme of interpretation, while the Catholic Church was steadily following another.
The doctrinal uniformity of the Church in very early times is further attested by the report of Irenæus, Tertulliau, Melito and Hegesippus. The three former of these are very awkward witnesses to meddle with. Cross-examination will be resorted to in vain, for the purpose of extorting a syllable from them in favour of the Unitarian cause. But, then, Dr. Priestley flatters himself that something may be made of Hegesippus. And Mr. Faber is so much delighted with the office of showing-up the treatment of this witness by Dr. Priestley, that he devotes to it no less than twelve or thirteen closely printed pages of his appendix. The whole affair, however, may easily be exhibited in a much shorter compass.
The Doctor, it seems, in the plenitude of his confidence, chuckles over his adversaries in mood and figure; and the following is the syllogism which is to deprive the orthodox, for ever, of all advantage from the deposition of Hegesippus:
Hegesippus, according to Eusebius, was a Hebrew Christian;
Therefore Hegesippus denied the divinity of Christ."
* Burton, Ante-Nicene Fathers, p. 293..
Now, our present purpose does not call upon us to disturb the minor proposition of Dr. Priestley. Whether the ancient Hebrew Church denied the divinity of Christ, or whether they affirmed it-our concern at this moment is only with Hegesippus. It appears then, from the report of Eusebius, that this worthy and pious man had occasion to take a journey from Asia to Rome, in the course of which he had an opportunity of associating with many Christian bishops. Nothing could be more satisfactory than the result of his travels. Go where he would, he had the comfort to find the churches professing the right faith; namely, the faith" as it is preached by the Law, and by the Prophets, and by the Lord himself."* Still, however, we are unable to learn, from any extant statement of Hegesippus himself, what this right faith was-this faith which was conformable to the Law, and to the Prophets, and to the teaching of Jesus Christ. It is necessary, therefore, to resort to other testimony for the purpose of ascertaining this point. Now, the sentiments of Irenæus and Melito, respecting the right faith, are known beyond all possibility of mistake, from their yet existing remains; and nothing can be more indisputable than the fact, that their notions of the right faith were, upon the matter in question, in direct contradiction to those of Dr. Priestley: and we further learn from Eusebius, that Hegesippus was in full consent with Irenæus and Melito. The inference is irresistible-namely, that the journeyings of Hegesippus were rendered highly consolatory by the uniform agreement of the churches in a doctrine, which is an utter abomination to the modern school of Unitarians.
It would seem, therefore, that, if this statement be correct, the hypothesis of Dr. Priestley, (to use a nautical phrase,) is completely in irons. His composure, nevertheless, in the midst of his difficulties, is perfectly admirable. The gods, who rejoice in the struggles of human fortitude and virtue, might look upon it with delight. He does not scruple to admit that all the churches visited by Hegesippus held the divinity of Christ, (a prodigy of candour in one who habitually regarded that persuasion as clearly Post-Nicene): but still, he is in possession of a very simple and obvious solution of the perplexity. The faithful in those days, he informs us, were in dread of nothing but Gnosticism. Provided the Church were free from the inroads of that elevenheaded monster, she might justly exult in her integrity. Any faith, in short, was the right faith, then, if it was but clear of that fatal pravity. Trinitarian, or Anti-Trinitarian, it mattered not; nothing but the Gnostic infection could vitiate it. What, there
* Εν ἑκάσῃ διαδοχῃ, καὶ ἐν ἑκώςῃ πόλει οὕτως ἔχει, ὡς ὁ Νόμος κηρύττει, καὶ οἱ προφῆται, nai i Kupios. Heges. apud Euseb. Hist. Ecc. lib. iv. c. 22.