An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine
Part 1: Doctrinal Developments Viewed in Themselves
Christianity has been long enough in the world to justify us in dealing with it as a fact in the world's history. Its genius and character, its doctrines, precepts, and objects cannot be treated as matters of private opinion or deduction, unless we may reasonably so regard the Spartan institutions or the religion of Mahomet. It may indeed legitimately be made the subject-matter of theories; what is its moral and political excellence, what its due location in the range of ideas or of facts which we possess, whether it be divine or human, whether original or eclectic, or both at once, how far favourable to civilization or to literature, whether a religion for all ages or for a particular state of society, these are questions upon the fact, or professed solutions of the fact, and belong to the province of opinion; but to a fact do they relate, on an admitted fact do they turn, which must be ascertained as other facts, and surely has on the whole been so ascertained, unless the testimony of so many centuries is to go for nothing. Christianity is no theory of the study or the cloister. It has long since passed beyond the letter of documents and the reasonings of individual minds, and has become public property. Its "sound has gone out into all lands," and its "words unto the ends of the world." It has from the first had an objective existence, and has thrown itself upon the great concourse of men. Its home is in the world; and to know what it is, we must seek it in the world, and hear the world's witness of it.
The hypothesis, indeed, has met with wide reception in these latter times, that Christianity does not fall within the province of history,--that it is to each man what each man thinks it to be, and nothing else; and thus in fact is a mere name for a cluster or family of rival religions all together, religions at variance one with another, and claiming the same appellation, not because there can be assigned any one and the same doctrine as the common foundation of all, but because certain points of agreement may be found here and there of some sort or other, by which each in its turn is connected with one or other of the rest. Or again, it has been maintained, or implied, that all existing denominations of Christianity are wrong, none representing it as taught by Christ and His Apostles; that the original religion has gradually decayed or become hopelessly corrupt; nay that it died out of the world at its birth, and was forthwith succeeded by a counterfeit or counterfeits which assumed its name, though they inherited at best but some fragments of its teaching; or rather that it cannot even be said either to have decayed or to have died, because historically it has no substance of its own, but from the first and onwards it has, on the stage of the world, been nothing more than a mere assemblage of doctrines and practices derived from without, from Oriental, Platonic, Polytheistic sources, from Buddhism, Essenism, Manicheeism; or that, allowing true Christianity still to exist, it has but a hidden and isolated life, in the hearts of the elect, or again as a literature or philosophy, not certified in any way, much less guaranteed, to come from above, but one out of the various separate informations about the Supreme Being and human duty, with which an unknown Providence had furnished us, whether in nature or in the world.
All such views of Christianity imply that there is no sufficient body of historical proof to interfere with, or at least to prevail against, any number whatever of free and independent hypotheses concerning it. But this surely is not self-evident, and has itself to be proved. Till positive reasons grounded on facts are adduced to the contrary, the most natural hypotheses, the most agreeable to our mode of proceeding in parallel cases, and that which takes precedence of all others, is to consider that the society of Christians, which the Apostles left on earth, were of that religion to which the Apostles had converted them; that the external continuity of name, profession, and communion, argues a real continuity of doctrine; that, as Christianity began by manifesting itself as of a certain shape and bearing to all mankind, therefore it went on so to manifest itself; and that the more, considering that prophecy had already determined that it was to be a power visible in the world and sovereign over it, characters which are accurately fulfilled in that historical Christianity to which we commonly give the name. It is not a violent assumption, then, but rather mere abstinence from the wanton admission of a principle which would necessarily lead to the most vexatious and preposterous scepticism, to take it for granted, before proof to the contrary, that the Christianity of the second, fourth, seventh, twelfth, sixteenth, and intermediate centuries is in its substance the very religion which Christ and His Apostles taught in the first, whatever may be the modifications for good or for evil which lapse of years, or the vicissitudes of human affairs, have impressed upon it.
Of course I do not deny the abstract possibility of extreme changes. The substitution is certainly, in idea, supposable of a counterfeit Christianity,--superseding the original, by means of the adroit innovations of seasons, places, and persons, till, according to the familiar illustration, the "blade" and the "handle" are alternately renewed, and identity is lost without the loss of continuity. It is possible; but it must not be assumed. The _onus probandi_ is with those who assert what it is unnatural to expect; to be just able to doubt is no warrant for disbelieving.
Accordingly, some writers have gone on to give reasons from history for their refusing to appeal to history. They aver that, when they come to look into the documents and literature of Christianity in times past, they find its doctrines so variously represented, and so inconsistently maintained by its professors, that, however natural it be _à priori_, it is useless, in fact, to seek in history the matter of that Revelation which has been vouchsafed to mankind; that they cannot be historical Christians if they would. They say, in the words of Chillingworth, "There are popes against popes, councils against councils, some fathers against others, the same fathers against themselves, a consent of fathers of one age against a consent of fathers of another age, the Church of one age against the Church of another age:"--Hence they are forced, whether they will or not, to fall back upon the Bible as the sole source of Revelation, and upon their own personal private judgment as the sole expounder of its doctrine. This is a fair argument, if it can be maintained, and it brings me at once to the subject of this Essay. Not that it enters into my purpose to convict of misstatement, as might be done, each separate clause of this sweeping accusation of a smart but superficial writer; but neither on the other hand do I mean to deny everything that he says to the disadvantage of historical Christianity. On the contrary, I shall admit that there are in fact certain apparent variations in its teaching, which have to be explained; thus I shall begin, but then I shall attempt to explain them to the exculpation of that teaching in point of unity, directness, and consistency.
Meanwhile, before setting about this work, I will address one remark to Chillingworth and his friends:--Let them consider, that if they can criticize history, the facts of history certainly can retort upon them. It might, I grant, be clearer on this great subject than it is. This is no great concession. History is not a creed or a catechism, it gives lessons rather than rules; still no one can mistake its general teaching in this matter, whether he accept it or stumble at it. Bold outlines and broad masses of colour rise out of the records of the past. They may be dim, they may be incomplete; but they are definite. And this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this.
And Protestantism has ever felt it so. I do not mean that every writer on the Protestant side has felt it; for it was the fashion at first, at least as a rhetorical argument against Rome, to appeal to past ages, or to some of them; but Protestantism, as a whole, feels it, and has felt it. This is shown in the determination already referred to of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone: men never would have put it aside, unless they had despaired of it. It is shown by the long neglect of ecclesiastical history in England, which prevails even in the English Church. Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of Nicæa and Trent, except as affording one or two passages to illustrate its wild interpretations of certain prophesies of St. Paul and St. John. It is melancholy to say it, but the chief, perhaps the only English writer who has any claim to be considered an ecclesiastical historian, is the unbeliever Gibbon. To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.
And this utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. Protestants can as little bear its Ante-nicene as its Post-tridentine period. I have elsewhere observed on this circumstance: "So much must the Protestant grant that, if such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if by a deluge, suddenly, silently, and without memorial; by a deluge coming in a night, and utterly soaking, rotting, heaving up, and hurrying off every vestige of what it found in the Church, before cock-crowing: so that 'when they rose in the morning' her true seed 'were all dead corpses'--Nay dead and buried--and without gravestone. 'The waters went over them; there was not one of them left; they sunk like lead in the mighty waters.' Strange antitype, indeed, to the early fortunes of Israel!--then the enemy was drowned, and 'Israel saw them dead upon the sea-shore.' But now, it would seem, water proceeded as a flood 'out of the serpent's mouth,' and covered all the witnesses, so that not even their dead bodies lay in the streets of the great city.' Let him take which of his doctrines he will, his peculiar view of self-righteousness, of formality, of superstition; his notion of faith, or of spirituality in religious worship; his denial of the virtue of the sacraments, or of the ministerial commission, or of the visible Church; or his doctrine of the divine efficacy of the Scriptures as the one appointed instrument of religious teaching; and let him consider how far Antiquity, as it has come down to us, will countenance him in it. No; he must allow that the alleged deluge has done its work; yes, and has in turn disappeared itself; it has been swallowed up by the earth, mercilessly as itself was merciless."[9:1]
That Protestantism, then, is not the Christianity of history, it is easy to determine, but to retort is a poor reply in controversy to a question of fact, and whatever be the violence or the exaggeration of writers like Chillingworth, if they have raised a real difficulty, it may claim a real answer, and we must determine whether on the one hand Christianity is still to represent to us a definite teaching from above, or whether on the other its utterances have been from time to time so strangely at variance, that we are necessarily thrown back on our own judgment individually to determine, what the revelation of God is, or rather if in fact there is, or has been, any revelation at all.
Here then I concede to the opponents of historical Christianity, that there are to be found, during the 1800 years through which it has lasted, certain apparent inconsistencies and alterations in its doctrine and its worship, such as irresistibly attract the attention of all who inquire into it. They are not sufficient to interfere with the general character and course of the religion, but they raise the question how they came about, and what they mean, and have in consequence supplied matter for several hypotheses.
Of these one is to the effect that Christianity has even changed from the first and ever accommodates itself to the circumstances of times and seasons; but it is difficult to understand how such a view is compatible with the special idea of revealed truth, and in fact its advocates more or less abandon, or tend to abandon the supernatural claims of Christianity; so it need not detain us here.
A second and more plausible hypothesis is that of the Anglican divines, who reconcile and bring into shape the exuberant phenomena under consideration, by cutting off and casting away as corruptions all usages, ways, opinions, and tenets, which have not the sanction of primitive times. They maintain that history first presents to us a pure Christianity in East and West, and then a corrupt; and then of course their duty is to draw the line between what is corrupt and what is pure, and to determine the dates at which the various changes from good to bad were introduced. Such a principle of demarcation, available for the purpose, they consider they have found in the _dictum_ of Vincent of Lerins, that revealed and Apostolic doctrine is "quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus," a principle infallibly separating, on the whole field of history, authoritative doctrine from opinion, rejecting what is faulty, and combining and forming a theology. That "Christianity is what has been held always, everywhere, and by all," certainly promises a solution of the perplexities, an interpretation of the meaning, of history. What can be more natural than that divines and bodies of men should speak, sometimes from themselves, sometimes from tradition? what more natural than that individually they should say many things on impulse, or under excitement, or as conjectures, or in ignorance? what more certain than that they must all have been instructed and catechized in the Creed of the Apostles? what more evident than that what was their own would in its degree be peculiar, and differ from what was similarly private and personal in their brethren? what more conclusive than that the doctrine that was common to all at once was not really their own, but public property in which they had a joint interest, and was proved by the concurrence of so many witnesses to have come from an Apostolical source? Here, then, we have a short and easy method for bringing the various informations of ecclesiastical history under that antecedent probability in its favour, which nothing but its actual variations would lead us to neglect. Here we have a precise and satisfactory reason why we should make much of the earlier centuries, yet pay no regard to the later, why we should admit some doctrines and not others, why we refuse the Creed of Pius IV. and accept the Thirty-nine Articles.
Such is the rule of historical interpretation which has been professed in the English school of divines; and it contains a majestic truth, and offers an intelligible principle, and wears a reasonable air. It is congenial, or, as it may be said, native to the Anglican mind, which takes up a middle position, neither discarding the Fathers nor acknowledging the Pope. It lays down a simple rule by which to measure the value of every historical fact, as it comes, and thereby it provides a bulwark against Rome, while it opens an assault upon Protestantism. Such is its promise; but its difficulty lies in applying it in particular cases. The rule is more serviceable in determining what is not, than what is Christianity; it is irresistible against Protestantism, and in one sense indeed it is irresistible against Rome also, but in the same sense it is irresistible against England. It strikes at Rome through England. It admits of being interpreted in one of two ways: if it be narrowed for the purpose of disproving the catholicity of the Creed of Pope Pius, it becomes also an objection to the Athanasian; and if it be relaxed to admit the doctrines retained by the English Church, it no longer excludes certain doctrines of Rome which that Church denies. It cannot at once condemn St. Thomas and St. Bernard, and defend St. Athanasius and St. Gregory Nazianzen.
This general defect in its serviceableness has been heretofore felt by those who appealed to it. It was said by one writer; "The Rule of Vincent is not of a mathematical or demonstrative character, but moral, and requires practical judgment and good sense to apply it. For instance, what is meant by being 'taught _always_'? does it mean in every century, or every year, or every month? Does '_everywhere_' mean in every country, or in every diocese? and does 'the _Consent of Fathers_' require us to produce the direct testimony of every one of them? How many Fathers, how many places, how many instances, constitute a fulfilment of the test proposed? It is, then, from the nature of the case, a condition which never can be satisfied as fully as it might have been. It admits of various and unequal application in various instances; and what degree of application is enough, must be decided by the same principles which guide us in the conduct of life, which determine us in politics, or trade, or war, which lead us to accept Revelation at all, (for which we have but probability to show at most,) nay, to believe in the existence of an intelligent Creator."[12:1]
So much was allowed by this writer; but then he added:--
"This character, indeed, of Vincent's Canon, will but recommend it to the disciples of the school of Butler, from its agreement with the analogy of nature; but it affords a ready loophole for such as do not wish to be persuaded, of which both Protestants and Romanists are not slow to avail themselves."
This surely is the language of disputants who are more intent on assailing others than on defending themselves; as if similar loopholes were not necessary for Anglican theology.
He elsewhere says: "What there is not the shadow of a reason for saying that the Fathers held, what has not the faintest pretensions of being a Catholic truth, is this, that St. Peter or his successors were and are universal Bishops, that they have the whole of Christendom for their one diocese in a way in which other Apostles and Bishops had and have not."[13:1] Most true, if, in order that a doctrine be considered Catholic, it must be formally stated by the Fathers generally from the very first; but, on the same understanding, the doctrine also of the apostolical succession in the episcopal order "has not the faintest pretensions of being a Catholic truth."
Nor was this writer without a feeling of the special difficulty of his school; and he attempted to meet it by denying it. He wished to maintain that the sacred doctrines admitted by the Church of England into her Articles were taught in primitive times with a distinctness which no one could fancy to attach to the characteristic tenets of Rome.
"We confidently affirm," he said in another publication, "that there is not an article in the Athanasian Creed concerning the Incarnation which is not anticipated in the controversy with the Gnostics. There is no question which the Apollinarian or the Nestorian heresy raised, which may not be decided in the words of Ignatius, Irenæus and Tertullian."[13:2]
This may be considered as true. It may be true also, or at least shall here be granted as true, that there is also a _consensus_ in the Ante-nicene Church for the doctrines of our Lord's Consubstantiality and Coeternity with the Almighty Father. Let us allow that the whole circle of doctrines, of which our Lord is the subject, was consistently and uniformly confessed by the Primitive Church, though not ratified formally in Council. But it surely is otherwise with the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity. I do not see in what sense it can be said that there is a _consensus_ of primitive divines in its favour, which will not avail also for certain doctrines of the Roman Church which will presently come into mention. And this is a point which the writer of the above passages ought to have more distinctly brought before his mind and more carefully weighed; but he seems to have fancied that Bishop Bull proved the primitiveness of the Catholic doctrine concerning the Holy Trinity as well as that concerning our Lord.
Now it should be clearly understood what it is which must be shown by those who would prove it. Of course the doctrine of our Lord's divinity itself partly implies and partly recommends the doctrine of the Trinity; but implication and suggestion belong to another class of arguments which has not yet come into consideration. Moreover the statements of a particular father or doctor may certainly be of a most important character; but one divine is not equal to a Catena. We must have a whole doctrine stated by a whole Church. The Catholic Truth in question is made up of a number of separate propositions, each of which, if maintained to the exclusion of the rest, is a heresy. In order then to prove that all the Ante-nicene writers taught the dogma of the Holy Trinity, it is not enough to prove that each still has gone far enough to be only a heretic--not enough to prove that one has held that the Son is God, (for so did the Sabellian, so did the Macedonian), and another that the Father is not the Son, (for so did the Arian), and another that the Son is equal to the Father, (for so did the Tritheist), and another that there is but One God, (for so did the Unitarian),--not enough that many attached in some sense a Threefold Power to the idea of the Almighty, (for so did almost all the heresies that ever existed, and could not but do so, if they accepted the New Testament at all); but we must show that all these statements at once, and others too, are laid down by as many separate testimonies as may fairly be taken to constitute a "_consensus_ of doctors." It is true indeed that the subsequent profession of the doctrine in the Universal Church creates a presumption that it was held even before it was professed; and it is fair to interpret the early Fathers by the later. This is true, and admits of application to certain other doctrines besides that of the Blessed Trinity in Unity; but there is as little room for such antecedent probabilities as for the argument from suggestions and intimations in the precise and imperative _Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus_, as it is commonly understood by English divines, and is by them used against the later Church and the see of Rome. What we have a right to ask, if we are bound to act upon Vincent's rule in regard to the Trinitarian dogma, is a sufficient number of Ante-nicene statements, each distinctly anticipating the Athanasian Creed.
Now let us look at the leading facts of the case, in appealing to which I must not be supposed to be ascribing any heresy to the holy men whose words have not always been sufficiently full or exact to preclude the imputation. First, the Creeds of that early day make no mention in their letter of the Catholic doctrine at all. They make mention indeed of a Three; but that there is any mystery in the doctrine, that the Three are One, that They are coequal, coeternal, all increate, all omnipotent, all incomprehensible, is not stated, and never could be gathered from them. Of course we believe that they imply it, or rather intend it. God forbid we should do otherwise! But nothing in the mere letter of those documents leads to that belief. To give a deeper meaning to their letter, we must interpret them by the times which came after.
Again, there is one and one only great doctrinal Council in Ante-nicene times. It was held at Antioch, in the middle of the third century, on occasion of the incipient innovations of the Syrian heretical school. Now the Fathers there assembled, for whatever reason, condemned, or at least withdrew, when it came into the dispute, the word "Homoüsion," which was afterwards received at Nicæa as the special symbol of Catholicism against Arius.[16:1]
Again, the six great Bishops and Saints of the Ante-nicene Church were St. Irenæus, St. Hippolytus, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, St. Dionysius of Alexandria, and St. Methodius. Of these, St. Dionysius is accused by St. Basil of having sown the first seeds of Arianism;[16:2] and St. Gregory is allowed by the same learned Father to have used language concerning our Lord, which he only defends on the plea of an economical object in the writer.[16:3] St. Hippolytus speaks as if he were ignorant of our Lord's Eternal Sonship;[17:1] St. Methodius speaks incorrectly at least upon the Incarnation;[17:2] and St. Cyprian does not treat of theology at all. Such is the incompleteness of the extant teaching of these true saints, and, in their day, faithful witnesses of the Eternal Son.
Again, Athenagoras, St. Clement, Tertullian, and the two SS. Dionysii would appear to be the only writers whose language is at any time exact and systematic enough to remind us of the Athanasian Creed. If we limit our view of the teaching of the Fathers by what they expressly state, St. Ignatius may be considered as a Patripassian, St. Justin arianizes, and St. Hippolytus is a Photinian.
Again, there are three great theological authors of the Ante-nicene centuries, Tertullian, Origen, and, we may add, Eusebius, though he lived some way into the fourth. Tertullian is heterodox on the doctrine of our Lord's divinity,[17:3] and, indeed, ultimately fell altogether into heresy or schism; Origen is, at the very least, suspected, and must be defended and explained rather than cited as a witness of orthodoxy; and Eusebius was a Semi-Arian.
Moreover, it may be questioned whether any Ante-nicene father distinctly affirms either the numerical Unity or the Coequality of the Three Persons; except perhaps the heterodox Tertullian, and that chiefly in a work written after he had become a Montanist:[18:1] yet to satisfy the Anti-roman use of _Quod semper, &c._, surely we ought not to be left for these great articles of doctrine to the testimony of a later age.
Further, Bishop Bull allows that "nearly all the ancient Catholics who preceded Arius have the appearance of being ignorant of the invisible and incomprehensible (_immensam_) nature of the Son of God;"[18:2] an article expressly taught in the Athanasian Creed under the sanction of its anathema.
It must be asked, moreover, how much direct and literal testimony the Ante-nicene Fathers give, one by one, to the divinity of the Holy Spirit? This alone shall be observed, that St. Basil, in the fourth century, finding that, if he distinctly called the Third Person in the Blessed Trinity by the Name of God, he should be put out of the Church by the Arians, pointedly refrained from doing so on an occasion on which his enemies were on the watch; and that, when some Catholics found fault with him, St. Athanasius took his part.[18:3] Could this possibly have been the conduct of any true Christian, not to say Saint, of a later age? that is, whatever be the true account of it, does it not suggest to us that the testimony of those early times lies very unfavourably for the application of the rule of Vincentius?
Let it not be for a moment supposed that I impugn the orthodoxy of the early divines, or the cogency of their testimony among _fair_ inquirers; but I am trying them by that _unfair_ interpretation of Vincentius, which is necessary in order to make him available against the Church of Rome. And now, as to the positive evidence which those Fathers offer in behalf of the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity, it has been drawn out by Dr. Burton and seems to fall under two heads. One is the general _ascription of glory_ to the Three Persons together, both by fathers and churches, and that on continuous tradition and from the earliest times. Under the second fall certain _distinct statements_ of _particular_ fathers; thus we find the word "Trinity" used by St. Theophilus, St. Clement, St. Hippolytus, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, Origen, St. Methodius; and the Divine _Circumincessio_, the most distinctive portion of the Catholic doctrine, and the unity of power, or again, of substance, are declared with more or less distinctness by Athenagoras, St. Irenæus, St. Clement, Tertullian, St. Hippolytus, Origen, and the two SS. Dionysii. This is pretty much the whole of the evidence.
Perhaps it will be said we ought to take the Ante-nicene Fathers as a whole, and interpret one of them by another. This is to assume that they are all of one school, which of course they are, but which in controversy is a point to be proved; but it is even doubtful whether, on the whole, such a procedure would strengthen the argument. For instance, as to the second head of the positive evidence noted by Dr. Burton, Tertullian is the most formal and elaborate of these Fathers in his statements of the Catholic doctrine. "It would hardly be possible," says Dr. Burton, after quoting a passage, "for Athanasius himself, or the compiler of the Athanasian Creed, to have delivered the doctrine of the Trinity in stronger terms than these."[19:1] Yet Tertullian must be considered heterodox on the doctrine of our Lord's eternal generation.[20:1] If then we are to argue from his instance to that of the other Fathers, we shall be driven to the conclusion that even the most exact statements are worth nothing more than their letter, are a warrant for nothing beyond themselves, and are consistent with heterodoxy where they do not expressly protest against it.
And again, as to the argument derivable from the Doxologies, it must not be forgotten that one of the passages in St. Justin Martyr includes the worship of the Angels. "We worship and adore," he says, "Him, and the Son who came from Him and taught us these things, and the host of those other good Angels, who follow and are like Him, and the Prophetic Spirit."[20:2] A Unitarian might argue from this passage that the glory and worship which the early Church ascribed to our Lord was not more definite than that which St. Justin was ready to concede to creatures.
Thus much on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Let us proceed to another example. There are two doctrines which are generally associated with the name of a Father of the fourth and fifth centuries, and which can show little definite, or at least but partial, testimony in their behalf before his time,--Purgatory and Original Sin. The dictum of Vincent admits both or excludes both, according as it is or is not rigidly taken; but, if used by Aristotle's "Lesbian Rule," then, as Anglicans would wish, it can be made to admit Original Sin and exclude Purgatory.
On the one hand, some notion of suffering, or disadvantage, or punishment after this life, in the case of the faithful departed, or other vague forms of the doctrine of Purgatory, has in its favour almost a _consensus_ of the four first ages of the Church, though some Fathers state it with far greater openness and decision than others. It is, as far as words go, the confession of St. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, St. Perpetua, St. Cyprian, Origen, Lactantius, St. Hilary, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Ambrose, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and of Nyssa, St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, St. Paulinus, and St. Augustine. And so, on the other hand, there is a certain agreement of Fathers from the first that mankind has derived some disadvantage from the sin of Adam.
Next, when we consider the two doctrines more distinctly,--the doctrine that between death and judgment there is a time or state of punishment; and the doctrine that all men, naturally propagated from fallen Adam, are in consequence born destitute of original righteousness,--we find, on the one hand, several, such as Tertullian, St. Perpetua, St. Cyril, St. Hilary, St. Jerome, St. Gregory Nyssen, as far as their words go, definitely declaring a doctrine of Purgatory: whereas no one will say that there is a testimony of the Fathers, equally strong, for the doctrine of Original Sin, though it is difficult here to make any definite statement about their teaching without going into a discussion of the subject.
On the subject of Purgatory there were, to speak generally, two schools of opinion; the Greek, which contemplated a trial of fire at the last day through which all were to pass; and the African, resembling more nearly the present doctrine of the Roman Church. And so there were two principal views of Original Sin, the Greek and the African or Latin. Of the Greek, the judgment of Hooker is well known, though it must not be taken in the letter: "The heresy of freewill was a millstone about those Pelagians' neck; shall we therefore give sentence of death inevitable against all those Fathers in the Greek Church which, being mispersuaded, died in the error of freewill?"[22:1] Bishop Taylor, arguing for an opposite doctrine, bears a like testimony: "Original Sin," he says, "as it is at this day commonly explicated, was not the doctrine of the primitive Church; but when Pelagius had puddled the stream, St. Austin was so angry that he stamped and disturbed it more. And truly . . I do not think that the gentlemen that urged against me St. Austin's opinion do well consider that I profess myself to follow those Fathers who were before him; and whom St. Austin did forsake, as I do him, in the question."[22:2] The same is asserted or allowed by Jansenius, Petavius, and Walch,[22:3] men of such different schools that we may surely take their agreement as a proof of the fact. A late writer, after going through the testimonies of the Fathers one by one, comes to the conclusion, first, that "the Greek Church in no point favoured Augustine, except in teaching that from Adam's sin came death, and, (after the time of Methodius,) an extraordinary and unnatural sensuality also;" next, that "the Latin Church affirmed, in addition, that a corrupt and contaminated soul, and that, by generation, was carried on to his posterity;"[22:4] and, lastly, that neither Greeks nor Latins held the doctrine of imputation. It may be observed, in addition, that, in spite of the forcible teaching of St. Paul on the subject, the doctrine of Original Sin appears neither in the Apostles' nor the Nicene Creed.
One additional specimen shall be given as a sample of many others:--I betake myself to one of our altars to receive the Blessed Eucharist; I have no doubt whatever on my mind about the Gift which that Sacrament contains; I confess to myself my belief, and I go through the steps on which it is assured to me. "The Presence of Christ is here, for It follows upon Consecration; and Consecration is the prerogative of Priests; and Priests are made by Ordination; and Ordination comes in direct line from the Apostles. Whatever be our other misfortunes, every link in our chain is safe; we have the Apostolic Succession, we have a right form of consecration: therefore we are blessed with the great Gift." Here the question rises in me, "Who told you about that Gift?" I answer, "I have learned it from the Fathers: I believe the Real Presence because they bear witness to it. St. Ignatius calls it 'the medicine of immortality:' St. Irenæus says that 'our flesh becomes incorrupt, and partakes of life, and has the hope of the resurrection,' as 'being nourished from the Lord's Body and Blood;' that the Eucharist 'is made up of two things, an earthly and an heavenly:'[23:1] perhaps Origen, and perhaps Magnes, after him, say that It is not a type of our Lord's Body, but His Body: and St. Cyprian uses language as fearful as can be spoken, of those who profane it. I cast my lot with them, I believe as they." Thus I reply, and then the thought comes upon me a second time, "And do not the same ancient Fathers bear witness to another doctrine, which you disown? Are you not as a hypocrite, listening to them when you will, and deaf when you will not? How are you casting your lot with the Saints, when you go but half-way with them? For of whether of the two do they speak the more frequently, of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, or of the Pope's supremacy? You accept the lesser evidence, you reject the greater."
In truth, scanty as the Ante-nicene notices may be of the Papal Supremacy, they are both more numerous and more definite than the adducible testimonies in favour of the Real Presence. The testimonies to the latter are confined to a few passages such as those just quoted. On the other hand, of a passage in St. Justin, Bishop Kaye remarks, "Le Nourry infers that Justin maintained the doctrine of Transubstantiation; it might in my opinion be more plausibly urged in favour of Consubstantiation, since Justin calls the consecrated elements Bread and Wine, though not common bread and wine.[24:1] . . . We may therefore conclude that, when he calls them the Body and Blood of Christ, he speaks figuratively." "Clement," observes the same author, "says that the Scripture calls wine a mystic _symbol_ of the holy blood. . . . Clement gives various interpretations of Christ's expressions in John vi. respecting His flesh and blood; but in no instance does he interpret them literally. . . . His notion seems to have been that, by partaking of the bread and wine in the Eucharist, the soul of the believer is united to the Spirit, and that by this union the principle of immortality is imparted to the flesh."[24:2] "It has been suggested by some," says Waterland, "that Tertullian understood John vi. merely of faith, or doctrine, or spiritual actions; and it is strenuously denied by others." After quoting the passage, he adds, "All that one can justly gather from this confused passage is that Tertullian interpreted the bread of life in John vi. of the Word, which he sometimes makes to be vocal, and sometimes substantial, blending the ideas in a very perplexed manner; so that he is no clear authority for construing John vi. of doctrines, &c. All that is certain is that he supposes the Word made flesh, the Word incarnate to be the heavenly bread spoken of in that chapter."[25:1] "Origen's general observation relating to that chapter is, that it must not be literally, but figuratively understood."[25:2] Again, "It is plain enough that Eusebius followed Origen in this matter, and that both of them favoured the same mystical or allegorical construction; whether constantly and uniformly I need not say."[25:3] I will but add the incidental testimony afforded on a late occasion:--how far the Anglican doctrine of the Eucharist depends on the times before the Nicene Council, how far on the times after it, may be gathered from the circumstance that, when a memorable Sermon[25:4] was published on the subject, out of about one hundred and forty passages from the Fathers appended in the notes, not in formal proof, but in general illustration, only fifteen were taken from Ante-nicene writers.
With such evidence, the Ante-nicene testimonies which may be cited in behalf of the authority of the Holy See, need not fear a comparison. Faint they may be one by one, but at least we may count seventeen of them, and they are various, and are drawn from many times and countries, and thereby serve to illustrate each other, and form a body of proof. Whatever objections may be made to this or that particular fact, and I do not think any valid ones can be raised, still, on the whole, I consider that a cumulative argument rises from them in favour of the ecumenical and the doctrinal authority of Rome, stronger than any argument which can be drawn from the same period for the doctrine of the Real Presence. I shall have occasion to enumerate them in the fourth chapter of this Essay.
If it be said that the Real Presence appears, by the Liturgies of the fourth or fifth century, to have been the doctrine of the earlier, since those very forms probably existed from the first in Divine worship, this is doubtless an important truth; but then it is true also that the writers of the fourth and fifth centuries fearlessly assert, or frankly allow that the prerogatives of Rome were derived from apostolic times, and that because it was the See of St. Peter.
Moreover, if the resistance of St. Cyprian and Firmilian to the Church of Rome, in the question of baptism by heretics, be urged as an argument against her primitive authority, or the earlier resistance of Polycrates of Ephesus, let it be considered, first, whether all authority does not necessarily lead to resistance; next, whether St. Cyprian's own doctrine, which is in favour of Rome, is not more weighty than his act, which is against her; thirdly, whether he was not already in error in the main question under discussion, and Firmilian also; and lastly, which is the chief point here, whether, in like manner, we may not object on the other hand against the Real Presence the words of Tertullian, who explains, "This is my Body," by "a figure of my Body," and of Origen, who speaks of "our drinking Christ's Blood not only in the rite of the Sacraments, but also when we receive His discourses,"[26:1] and says that "that Bread which God the Word acknowledges as His Body is the Word which nourishes souls,"[26:2]--passages which admit of a Catholic interpretation when the Catholic doctrine is once proved, but which _primâ facie_ run counter to that doctrine.
It does not seem possible, then, to avoid the conclusion that, whatever be the proper key for harmonizing the records and documents of the early and later Church, and true as the dictum of Vincentius must be considered in the abstract, and possible as its application might be in his own age, when he might almost ask the primitive centuries for their testimony, it is hardly available now, or effective of any satisfactory result. The solution it offers is as difficult as the original problem.
Another hypothesis for accounting for a want of accord between the early and the late aspects of Christianity is that of the _Disciplina Arcani_, put forward on the assumption that there has been no variation in the teaching of the Church from first to last. It is maintained that doctrines which are associated with the later ages of the Church were really in the Church from the first, but not publicly taught, and that for various reasons: as, for the sake of reverence, that sacred subjects might not be profaned by the heathen; and for the sake of catechumens, that they might not be oppressed or carried away by a sudden communication of the whole circle of revealed truth. And indeed the fact of this concealment can hardly be denied, in whatever degree it took the shape of a definite rule, which might vary with persons and places. That it existed even as a rule, as regards the Sacraments, seems to be confessed on all hands. That it existed in other respects, as a practice, is plain from the nature of the case, and from the writings of the Apologists. Minucius Felix and Arnobius, in controversy with Pagans, imply a denial that then the Christians used altars; yet Tertullian speaks expressly of the _Ara Dei_ in the Church. What can we say, but that the Apologists deny altars _in the sense_ in which they ridicule them; or, that they deny that altars _such as_ the Pagan altars were tolerated by Christians? And, in like manner, Minucius allows that there were no temples among Christians; yet they are distinctly recognized in the edicts of the Dioclesian era, and are known to have existed at a still earlier date. It is the tendency of every dominant system, such as the Paganism of the Ante-nicene centuries, to force its opponents into the most hostile and jealous attitude, from the apprehension which they naturally feel, lest if they acted otherwise, in those points in which they approximate towards it, they should be misinterpreted and overborne by its authority. The very fault now found with clergymen of the Anglican Church, who wish to conform their practices to her rubrics, and their doctrines to her divines of the seventeenth century, is, that, whether they mean it or no, whether legitimately or no, still, in matter of fact, they will be sanctioning and encouraging the religion of Rome, in which there are similar doctrines and practices, more definite and more influential; so that, at any rate, it is inexpedient at the moment to attempt what is sure to be mistaken. That is, they are required to exercise a _disciplina arcani_; and a similar reserve was inevitable on the part of the Catholic Church, at a time when priests and altars and rites all around it were devoted to malignant and incurable superstitions. It would be wrong indeed to deny, but it was a duty to withhold, the ceremonial of Christianity; and Apologists might be sometimes tempted to deny absolutely what at furthest could only be denied under conditions. An idolatrous Paganism tended to repress the externals of Christianity, as, at this day, the presence of Protestantism is said to repress, though for another reason, the exhibition of the Roman Catholic religion.
On various grounds, then, it is certain that portions of the Church system were held back in primitive times, and of course this fact goes some way to account for that apparent variation and growth of doctrine, which embarrasses us when we would consult history for the true idea of Christianity; yet it is no key to the whole difficulty, as we find it, for obvious reasons:--because the variations continue beyond the time when it is conceivable that the discipline was in force, and because they manifest themselves on a law, not abruptly, but by a visible growth which has persevered up to this time without any sign of its coming to an end.[29:1]
The following Essay is directed towards a solution of the difficulty which has been stated,--the difficulty, as far as it exists, which lies in the way of our using in controversy the testimony of our most natural informant concerning the doctrine and worship of Christianity, viz. the history of eighteen hundred years. The view on which it is written has at all times, perhaps, been implicitly adopted by theologians, and, I believe, has recently been illustrated by several distinguished writers of the continent, such as De Maistre and Möhler: viz. that the increase and expansion of the Christian Creed and Ritual, and the variations which have attended the process in the case of individual writers and Churches, are the necessary attendants on any philosophy or polity which takes possession of the intellect and heart, and has had any wide or extended dominion; that, from the nature of the human mind, time is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection of great ideas; and that the highest and most wonderful truths, though communicated to the world once for all by inspired teachers, could not be comprehended all at once by the recipients, but, as being received and transmitted by minds not inspired and through media which were human, have required only the longer time and deeper thought for their full elucidation. This may be called the _Theory of Development of Doctrine_; and, before proceeding to treat of it, one remark may be in place.
It is undoubtedly an hypothesis to account for a difficulty; but such too are the various explanations given by astronomers from Ptolemy to Newton of the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies, and it is as unphilosophical on that account to object to the one as to object to the other. Nor is it more reasonable to express surprise, that at this time of day a theory is necessary, granting for argument's sake that the theory is novel, than to have directed a similar wonder in disparagement of the theory of gravitation, or the Plutonian theory in geology. Doubtless, the theory of the Secret and the theory of doctrinal Developments are expedients, and so is the dictum of Vincentius; so is the art of grammar or the use of the quadrant; it is an expedient to enable us to solve what has now become a necessary and an anxious problem. For three hundred years the documents and the facts of Christianity have been exposed to a jealous scrutiny; works have been judged spurious which once were received without a question; facts have been discarded or modified which were once first principles in argument; new facts and new principles have been brought to light; philosophical views and polemical discussions of various tendencies have been maintained with more or less success. Not only has the relative situation of controversies and theologies altered, but infidelity itself is in a different,--I am obliged to say in a more hopeful position,--as regards Christianity. The facts of Revealed Religion, though in their substance unaltered, present a less compact and orderly front to the attacks of its enemies now than formerly, and allow of the introduction of new inquiries and theories concerning its sources and its rise. The state of things is not as it was, when an appeal lay to the supposed works of the Areopagite, or to the primitive Decretals, or to St. Dionysius's answers to Paul, or to the Cœna Domini of St. Cyprian. The assailants of dogmatic truth have got the start of its adherents of whatever Creed; philosophy is completing what criticism has begun; and apprehensions are not unreasonably excited lest we should have a new world to conquer before we have weapons for the warfare. Already infidelity has its views and conjectures, on which it arranges the facts of ecclesiastical history; and it is sure to consider the absence of any antagonist theory as an evidence of the reality of its own. That the hypothesis, here to be adopted, accounts not only for the Athanasian Creed, but for the Creed of Pope Pius, is no fault of those who adopt it. No one has power over the issues of his principles; we cannot manage our argument, and have as much of it as we please and no more. An argument is needed, unless Christianity is to abandon the province of argument; and those who find fault with the explanation here offered of its historical phenomena will find it their duty to provide one for themselves.
And as no special aim at Roman Catholic doctrine need be supposed to have given a direction to the inquiry, so neither can a reception of that doctrine be immediately based on its results. It would be the work of a life to apply the Theory of Developments so carefully to the writings of the Fathers, and to the history of controversies and councils, as thereby to vindicate the reasonableness of every decision of Rome; much less can such an undertaking be imagined by one who, in the middle of his days, is beginning life again. Thus much, however, might be gained even from an Essay like the present, an explanation of so many of the reputed corruptions, doctrinal and practical, of Rome, as might serve as a fair ground for trusting her in parallel cases where the investigation had not been pursued.
[9:1] Church of the Fathers [Hist. Sketches, vol. i. p. 418].
[12:1] Proph. Office [Via Media, vol. i. pp. 55, 56].
[13:1] [Ibid. p. 181.
[13:2] [British Critic, July, 1836, p. 193. Vid. supr. vol. i. p. 130.]
[16:1] This of course has been disputed, as is the case with almost all facts which bear upon the decision of controversies. I shall not think it necessary to notice the possibility or the fact of objections on questions upon which the world may now be said to be agreed; _e. g._ the arianizing tone of Eusebius.
[16:2] σχεδὸν ταυτησὶ τῆς νῦν περιθυλλουμένης ἀσεβείας, τῆς κατὰ τὸ Ἀνόμοιον λέγω, οὗτος ἐστὶν, ὅσα γε ἡμεῖς ἴσμεν, ὁ πρῶτος ἀνθρώποις τὰ σπέρματα παρασχών. Ep. ix. 2.
[16:3] Bull, Defens. F. N. ii. 12, § 6.
[17:1] "The authors who make the generation temporary, and speak not expressly of any other, are these following: Justin, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Tatian, Tertullian, and Hippolytus."--_Waterland_, vol. i. part 2, p. 104.
[17:2] "Levia sunt," says Maran in his defence, "quæ in Sanctissimam Trinitatem hic liber peccare dicitur, paulo graviora quæ in mysterium Incarnationis."--_Div. Jes. Christ._ p. 527. Shortly after, p. 530, "In tertiâ oratione nonnulla legimus Incarnationem Domini spectantia, quæ subabsurdè dicta fateor, nego impiè cogitata."
[17:3] Bishop Bull, who is tender towards him, allows, "Ut quod res est dicam, cum Valentinianis hic et reliquo gnosticorum grege aliquatenus locutus est Tertullianus; in re ipsâ tamen cum Catholicis omninò sensit."--_Defens. F. N._ iii. 10, § 15.
[18:1] Adv. Praxeam.
[18:2] Defens. F. N. iv. 3, § 1.
[18:3] Basil, ed. Ben. vol. 3, p. xcvi.
[19:1] Ante-nicene Test, to the Trinity, p. 69.
[20:1] "Quia et Pater Deus est, et judex Deus est, non tamen ideo Pater et judex semper, quia Deus semper. Nam nec Pater potuit esse ante Filium, nec judex ante delictum. Fuit autem tempus, cum et delictum et Filius non fuit, quod judicem, et qui Patrem Dominum faceret."--_Contr. Herm._ 3.
[20:2] Vid. infra, towards the end of the Essay, ch. x., where more will be said on the passage.
[22:1] Of Justification, 26.
[22:2] Works, vol. ix. p. 396.
[22:3] "Quamvis igitur quam maximè fallantur Pelagiani, quum asserant, peccatum originale ex Augustini profluxisse ingenio, antiquam vero ecclesiam illud plane nescivisse; diffiteri tamen nemo potest, apud Græcos patres imprimis inveniri loca, quæ Pelagianismo favere videntur. Hinc et C. Jansenius, 'Græci,' inquit, 'nisi caute legantur et intelligantur, præbere possunt occasionem errori Pelagiano;' et D. Petavius dicit, 'Græci originalis fere criminis raram, nec disertam, mentionem scriptis suis attigerunt.'"--_Walch_, _Miscell. Sacr._ p. 607.
[22:4] Horn, Comment. de Pecc. Orig. 1801, p. 98.
[23:1] Hær. iv. 18, § 5.
[24:1] Justin Martyr, ch. 4.
[24:2] Clem. Alex. ch. 11.
[25:1] Works, vol. vii. p. 118-120.
[25:2] Ibid. p. 121.
[25:3] Ibid. p. 127.
[25:4] [Dr. Pusey's University Sermon of 1843.]
[26:1] Numer. Hom. xvi. 9.
[26:2] Interp. Com. in Matt. 85.
[29:1] [_Vid._ Apolog., p. 198, and Difficulties of Angl. vol. i. xii. 7.]
Chapter 1: On the Development of Ideas
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine - Part 1: Doctrinal Developments Viewed in Themselves
Chapter 1: On the Development of Ideas
Chapter 2: On the Antecedent Argument in Behalf of Developments in Christian Doctrine
Chapter 3: On the Historical Argument in Behalf of the Existing Developments
Chapter 4: Instances in Illustration
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine - Part 2: Doctrinal Developments Viewed Relatively to Doctrinal Corruptions
Chapter 5: Genuine Developments Contrasted with Corruptions
Chapter 6: Application of the Seven Notes to the Existing Developments of Christian Doctrine
Chapter 7: Application of the Second Note of a True Development
Chapter 8: Application of the Third Note of a True Development
Chapter 9: Application of the Fourth Note of a True Development
Chapter 10: Application of the Fifth Note of a True Development
Chapter 11: Application of the Sixth Note of a True Development
Chapter 12: Application of the Seventh Note of a True Development
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