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Uncertainty in the Dogmas of Christianity

(Concluded from p. 185.)

Perhaps they may mystify and confuse him by telling him that the son of God was united with the son of Mary, who performed that part in the narrative which was incompatible with the divine nature of the Son of God; and that, though the sacrifice and expiation was required by the scheme of Christianity to be made by the Divinity, still, that being impossible, they were not so made, but were performed by the Humanity. This may satisfy an easy believer, but he will find that such was not the doctrine taught by the Apostles; though in the Gospels, when Jesus refers to his death, he calls himself the Son of Man, yet on other occasions, as at his baptism and transfiguration, he is described as the Son of God. Paul, in his Epistles, speaks more plainly, affirming in many passages that the Son of God’s <<240>> blood was shed for the salvation of mankind. There cannot be any doubt that the Apostles and the fathers of the Church, during the first four centuries, taught, as the fundamental principle of Christianity, that the Son of God did really die, and rise again from the dead.

I have now before me several of the creeds composed in those times, in all of which that dogma is laid down most unequivocally. The earliest is called the Apostles’ Creed, which, though it may be doubted whether it was composed and used by the Apostles themselves, is said to contain the sum of their doctrines in the first century; Irenaeus and Tertullian in the second; Origen and Gregory of New Caesaria, Lucian of Antioch, and Cyril of Jerusalem, in the next century; the famous Nicene Creed, and that of Pelagius, all assert the same dogma. It is worthy of notice, that none of these authors, except the last, make any mention of the union of the two natures, divine and human, in the person of the second person, which fact alone would remove the contradiction and absurdity of affirming that the Son of God, equal to the Father, could and did die.

Of the earliest creeds, some do assert that the Son was “incarnate,” as Irenaeus; or “assumed human nature,” as Origen; or was “made man,” as Lucian; and in the Jerusalem and Nicene Creeds, “was incarnate and made man;” but none of these terms indicate a two-fold nature, but a degradation from a higher to an inferior nature—that from being a God he was made a man. Pelagius, who, from his doctrine, we may suppose to have written after the publication of the symbol attributed to Anastasius, adopts his hypothesis, and farther explains it (if it can be called an explanation) by saying that, by his divine nature, the Son was incapable of suffering, but did really suffer in that nature which was capable of suffering—the same line of argument which has been adopted by Bishop Pearson, in his Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. Pelagius argues from an assumption, when he affirms that we cannot confess the Father to be eternal without admitting the Son to be eternal, since he who was eternally a Father must needs eternally to have had an eternal Son. But this is entirely assuming the question, and affirming that the <<241>> Son who was begotten was coeval with the Father who begat him. When men are called upon to believe a sophism like this, asserted on the bare word of a man like themselves, they may well pause.

It is very remarkable that there is not, in any of these creeds, any notice of a Trinity—a Trinity in unity, such as is declared in the creed attributed to Athanasius. They all profess to worship three distinct, separate, and independent divine subsistencies. Gregory, of Neo-Caesaria, indeed, inculcates a Trinity, which is merely a union of the three persons; and Lucian tells of three persons united in one godhead; but neither of them goes to the extent of the Athanasian Creed, in saying that, though there are three persons, there is but one God.

I think I am justified in saying that, previous to the promulgation of the Athanasian Creed, the doctrine of “an unity in Trinity” was not an article of the belief of the Church. The first general council, which was summoned by Constantine, in the year 325, and was attended by 318 bishops, does not include in its creed (the Nicene) the dogma of the Trinity. We may therefore suppose it was not then received in the dioceses of the 318 bishops.

A great deal of the remainder of the Catechism must be nearly unintelligible to children, for whose use it was composed, including the doctrine of original sin, which is laid down without any other explanation to the child than that it was naturally born in sin, and a child of wrath, and that by baptism it has been made a child of grace. After the children are grown up to adolescence, they appear before the Bishop for confirmation, that is, to take upon themselves the duties which had been undertaken for them by their sponsors, and to confess their belief in that which had been taught them in the Catechism, though there is little reason to suppose that they understand the terms there used any more than when they first learned them. Then their Christian education is complete. They will hear the same doctrine from the pulpit, but not a word in explanation of the figurative terms which have been used at baptism and at confirmation. That they are figurative, and not to be <<242>> taken literally, I think nobody will deny but what is the reality of which they are figures? I believe few among the masses can tell.

I suppose those figures of speech are among the articles of the Liturgy, which the Rev. I. Newton would have amended. I am not surprised that both he and the Bishop of London should deprecate any attempt at reforming it, lest in the attempt many more of the dogmas of Christianity should be expunged than they would be willing to part with. The greatest enemies of the Church are in her bosom and, in the discussion which will arise from each person wishing to maintain his own interpretation of its tenets, and to oppose all others, they will show on what a frail foundation the doctrine is built.

J. R. P.