« AnteriorContinuar »
Church is militant now as much as in the days of the Apostles, so the heresies which meet her on her path are the same in their essence now as then. The Proteus may put on one front more horrid than another, but he is the same underneath ; and thus the more thoroughly we sound the depths of error in one age, the better shall we be able to meet it in another age.
Thus it is that the great controversy of the first four centuries on the Person of our Lord, both God and man, is full of instruction and guidance to us in the controversy of these latter days, as to the real nature of Scripture, human and divine. The form of error is different, but as the principle of the attack is the same in both cases, so the line of defence must be the same. The stages, moreover, which the one controversy passed through so much resemble those which the other appears destined to pass through, that our study of the one period will throw light on the other. There is more than a fancied resemblance between the attempts to rationalise away the dualism of the Word made flesh and the dualism of the Word written with pen and ink.
Dr. Dorner, in his great work on the person of Christ, has laid down the four following principles, to which we intend to adhere in defining the nature of inspiration :
1. That the germs of the doctrine of the person of Christ, as held by all orthodox Churches, are contained principally in a concrete form in the New Testament, and that the New Testament is the absolute doctrinal norm.
2. That the mission of the Church, intellectually considered, has been to develop these germs—not, however, to originate any new element.
3. That during its history the Church has actually and progressively developed these germs ; now giving prominence to one and then to another aspect of the person of Christ.
4. That in the midst of all its conflicts, confusion,
and even corruption, the Church has been enabled, by the Spirit of God, with sure tact, and as it were instinctively, to turn its back on dangerous principles which it had itself cherished, and vigorously to oppose erroneous tendencies at which it had winked:
Thus development is one thing, definition another. The latter is all that we have any right to attempt ; and as the Church Militant has been justified, from the necessities of the case, in defining the person of Christ in more dogmatic terms than Scripture uses, the same plea may be urged for our definition of inspiration. In both cases we find the germ of all we shall advance in Scripture itself; but as there are afterthoughts of error which are foisted on us under the name of Scripture, so to meet these as they arise we must draw out the underthoughts of Scripture; thus causing the sap to flow from the tree of life so as to kill the parasite which would otherwise kill it. It is a law without an exception, that either the foreign growth will kill the old, or the old must put out a new life to kill the intruder. Christianity is bound by the law of its existence to meet all comers, and take up every challenge. It cannot appeal to the past ; the moment it disdains a new combatant it has suffered a defeat; for it must be always ready to give a reason of the hope that is in it.
Such being its tenure of existence here, we must not shrink from again replying to the well-worn forms of error.
Weary as it may seem to us, the stale old errors put on such an air of novelty to some, that we must meet them as fresh as ever, and put on a new front to a new attack.
We purpose, then, to trace out the points of resemblance between the controversy on the person of our Lord and that on the inspiration of Scripture, and to point out that the stages which the one passed through correspond with those of the other.
The controversy about the Person of Christ is divided between two marked periods, the one ending with the Council of Nice, in 325, the other ending with the Council of Chalcedon, in 451. During the former period, the truth which was established through controversy was the two natures of our Lord. During the latter their union in one person. The great truth which was maintained during the first three centuries was this, that our Lord was both God and man—God of the substance of His Father, begotten before the world, and man of the substance of His mother, born in the world. There were several stages of this controversy. The earliest was that between the Ebionite and Docetist. The first attempt to rationalise the great mystery was that of those early sectaries, who viewed the humanity and divinity as mutually exclusive of each other. If He was man He could not in any sense have been divine, the Ebionite maintained. If He was God He could not in any sense have been human, the Docetist said. The first century had not elapsed before these two opposite errors had risen to vex the Church. The last of the Apostles, John the Divine, whose mission it was to tarry till Christ came, was still alive to reply “ with pen and ink” to these two forms of heresy, which were the germs of all the Gnostic heresies of later times. As every succeeding error on the person of Christ was little else than a development of Docetic or Ebionite error, it is well that an inspired pen had pronounced by anticipation on all these errors. The Church had only to apply the censure of St. John to the successors of the Ebionites and Docetists of its day in order to vindicate the faith which was once delivered to the saints. The Gnostic heresies of the second and third centuries were developments, we have said, of Docetic or Ebionite errors; but as in all developments there is growth and a change of form as well, so we must not look to find the same broad contradictions between His non-humanity and His non-divinity, which startled the Church of the first century. Error, as it spread, also grew more subtle : heresiarchs, refined as they found that the 'coarser forms of error were cast out of the Church. By
the close of the first century a declared Docetist or a declared Ebionite must have ceased to consider himself a Christian. There was no standing-room left for him in the Church—“They went out from us because they were not of us," was the earliest form of excommunication. When the errorist was denounced, he withdrew from a little persecuted sect with whose principles he had nothing in common, and therefore no motive for remaining in connexion with. But as the Church grew in numbers and importance, as Church-membership entailed fewer civil pains and penalties, so errorists endeavoured to hold their ground in the Church ; and thus a struggle began between the orthodox party, who wished to expel these innovators, and the heterodox, who wished to remain under more liberal terms of comprehension. It is a mistake to speak of articles of peace, as Mr. Wilson does in his recent essay. The very necessity for creeds and articles implies a state of controversy. It is possible for two parties to agree to sink their differences, in order to combine against a third, which is equally obnoxious to both. Thus the Evangelical Alliance agrees to sink the differences among the various Protestant orthodox sects, with a view of common action against Rome and Rationalism. But the Alliance does not draw up either creeds or articles. The moment it attempted comprehension of this kind it would find that they were articles of war, not of peace; and therefore it has wisely left this alone, and is content to abide by those symbols which are certainly not pacific, but militant, which the Church has drawn up in former ages.
The refinement by which Docetic and Ebionite errors endeavoured to make good their ground within the Church of the first three centuries, are given at length in all Church histories. Psilanthropism, or the doctrine of the mere manhood of Christ, is so utterly opposed to the whole teaching of the Apostles and to our Lord's own words, that it is more than probable that the Ebionites who held this opinion were only a Jewish sect, favourably disposed to receive Jesus as the Messiah, and so differing from the mass of their countrymen who had rejected Him. It would be more correct to call them a sect of schismatic Jews than schismatic Christianspoor despised Jews (for such is the meaning of the Hebrew word 71928), who had been put out of the synagogue for acknowledging the Messiahship of Jesus, rather than a body of disciples, who, like the twelve men at Ephesus, had not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
Docetism, also, in its coarser form of expression, did not probably survive the first century. The Apostle St. John had so completely demolished the pretensions of any who held these opinions to the name of Christians, he had marked them out so explicitly as not only unchristian, but also as anti-Christian, that the later Gnostics could only vent their opinions under very
subtle forms. As the denial that Jesus Christ was come in the flesh was the certain mark of Antichrist, the Gnostic could only declare that the Logos had descended in the man Jesus, and so inhered in Him as to raise Him to become a partaker of the Divine nature, which was the disguised or crypto-Ebionitism; or that the Logos or wisdom of God overshadowed or dwelt in Christ, but being itself God, and impassible, was not in the man Christ, during His passion, which was the form of crypto-Docetism of the later Gnostics. It would carry us too far out of our course to describe all the variations of these two shades of Gnosticism. They all grew out of this common error, that they failed to realise the deep truth of the Incarnation, that the Word became flesh. They were all attempts to reconcile this assertion of St. John with some philosophical dogma of the incommunicability of the Divine Essence. The Gnostics' were Rationalists, because they attempted to compro