Page images
PDF
EPUB

LETTER XI.

IT having been the purport of the preceding Letter to particularize the causes to which, more or less, the introduction of the terms eter⚫nal generation, into theological language, falls in my opinion to be assigned, I shall now proceed to apply to the subject in hand, the arguments and facts which have been briefly laid before you.

[ocr errors]

We have discussed the nature, and the probable foundation of Plato's philosophy. Let us next examine whether, and how far, this plausible and much esteemed system of Plato had influence on the language of the christian fathers, and insinuated itself into their writings, from an early period. To this examination the writings of the celebrated Justin Martyr, who flourished within fifty years of Ignatius bishop of Antioch, will afford us the necessary assistance.

Before his conversion to christianity, Justin Martyr had been a zealous disciple of the philosopher Plato. This, though Justia himself had not confessed

06

fessed it, might have been discovered from his works; and particularly from his warm, and scarcely warrantable attachment to the tutelar saint of Plato, Socrates; of whom he is bold to say, when treating of the enmity of the devils against the the truth-“ ου γὰρ μονον Ἑλληςι δια Σωκρατες υπο λόγο ελέγχθη ταυτα ' —these things were reproved by the Logos, through the mouth of Socrates." Nay, he farther says, "that they who lived by reason were "christians;" among whom he hesitates not to reckon Socrates-and classes him with Abraham and Elijah. In enlargement of which unjustifiable panegyric, Mr Reeves, the translator of Justin Martyr's " Apology," is very angry with Tertullian, who held a very different opinion of Socrates, and who calls his " dæmon "-pessimum revera pedagogum-the worst of all tutors. Mr Reeves' words are as follow: " "When I find Socrates employing all his reason to bring men off from barren speculations to the knowledge of themselves, and the practice of substantial virtue; when I find him "the greatest master of his passions, the most 'judicious despiser of riches within his reach, "the most temperate, humble, courteous, inoffensive “man living in the gentile world; when I find him "encouraged by his damon, to die for the profes"sion of the one true God; when Justin Martyr says, that he, by his share of reason, did among the

46

66

66

66

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

1 See 1 Apology, c. 5.

21 Apology, c. xli.

"the Greeks what the Logos himself did among the Barbarians, and that both were condemned for "the same good design; who, after this, I say, can think Socrates possessed and governed by an evil spirit? Why not divinely assisted to preach "down idolatry, and bring moral righteousness in"to practice, and by such means to prepare and qualify the heathen world for the revelation of "the Messiah?"

86

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Upon this quotation, which will, I hope, be acknowledged by every true christian to include its own proper censure, I shall make no comment. I feel it however incumbent on me to notice the glaring contrariety of sentiment regarding this same Socrates, the idol still of modern veneration, and that, between two writers nearly contemporary, Justin Martyr and Tertullian. The former holds him to be inspired by the Logos himself! The latter holds him to be actuated by a devil! How is this contrariety of character to be accounted for? In no other way, as far as I am capable of discriminating, but by ascribing Justin Martyr's eulogium to the secret workings of the Platonic philosophy; Tertullian's censure to his having been " addicted" to the system of "no" philosophical "master" whatever; all of whom he calls " Hæreticorum Patriarchæ," the " Patriarchs of the Heretics." Indeed, it is but natural to suppose, that according to what Justin

Martyr

See Lib. contra Hermogen, c. iv.

Martyr has expressed regarding Socrates, so would he have us understand his sentiments to be respecting his old master Plato; whose more sublime doctrines and definitions he has artfully infused into his own writings. Thus we find him, in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, using the very language which Plato is found to use-6 μονος γαρ αγέννητος, "nai apfagtC O:G, nai dix T8TO : 851-God is "the only unbegotten, and incorruptible, and, upon "that account, is God." To this, in the sense, and under the application which Ignatius has made of the term "ays," no objection needs be offered. But this sense and application are not allowed by a certain class of writers, whom we find quoting and twisting the term to their own purpose. And indeed, the sense and application which the language of Ignatius bears, Justin himself disclaims, when he writes “ μονου ιδίως υιου τω Θεω γεγέννηται the Son alone is properly begotten of God'," which points out, and, in fact, limits the use of “ αγεννητο," in the opinion of Justin Martyr.

66

"

Whether Ignatius, who, as we have seen, first used the term ayev, borrowed it from Plato or not, I cannot say. Bishop Pearson to be ure asserts, that Athanasius said, the term was taken from the heathen. But, for my own part, I cannot allow myself to think, that a man possessed of the plain simple piety, and heavenly charity, of which Ignatius

See 1 Apol. p. 46

2 See Vindic. p. 127.

Ignatius shewed himself to be possessed, would, in such an august description of the great "physician" —are of souls, have had recourse to Plato for appropriate expressions. There is nothing in this venerable Father's writings which betrays an acquaintance with Plato; nay more, his use of the term " ayent" is contrary to Plato's restriction of

it.

That Justin Martyr, however, intentionally adopted the term from Plato, and used it in the very sense of his heathen master, is clear from the quotations just adduced; and from the triumphant acknowledgement of those, who, to this day, espouse the doctrine of eternal generation.' And, for aught I know to the contrary, Justin Martyr may have been the first christian writer who used the term in the Platonic sense; unless perhaps Athenagoras, who, as I have shewn', calls the Son of God, new yeμa tw Targi,' &c. and who, being an Athenian, it may be presumed, had been a Platonist also.

6

From the time of these two early Apologists of the christian faith, the Platonic language, and the Platonic doctrine, on the important article now under consideration, seem to have spread, and to have become current; nay, even to have been accompanied by every unbecoming inference, which the

conceit

[ocr errors]

* See Letter III. p. 22.

« PreviousContinue »