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position belongs to a Latin writer, Vigilius by name, bishop of Thapsa in Africa, who lived one hundred years and more after Athanasius; it is strange indeed that no attempt has been made to correct the title at least, that, if we are still to retain the words of this creed, it may have some superior claim to our adoption, than what it now possesses.
By these observations I mean not to impress the reader with any thing unfavourable to the character of this active and skilful contender for the catholic faith. I esteem him as an acute and successful opponent of the creed of Arius; and his authority, as far as is due to authority merely human, I do readily and willingly admit; but let not Athanasius be held as infallible, or his single authority deemed sufficient to decide in points of faith, essential to the salvation of man. In establishing my belief in Jesus Christ," My Lord, and my God," let me be allowed to respect the language of the Holy Mar‘tyr, Ignatius,' as much as the language of the great confessor Athanasius;' and more I ask not, since, if I find a difference of sentiment between the two writers, I feel myself compelled to give the preference, where it is confessedly due, to the writer of the greatest antiquity. Indeed the truth seems to be, that although the Fathers of the Christian church may have been" all of one mind," on the subject of a Trinity in unity; yet, when they come to a particular explanation, and description of this 'mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh,'
they are found to express themselves in terms so very different, and so ill adapted to modern language, that to reconcile their expressions to our ideas, or even to the ideas of each other, must be a matter of force; instances of which the reader has already been put in possession of. Nay, it not unfrequently happens, that the same Father uses, in different works, and with different intentions, the same word, in different senses. Thus, among numerous instances, we have Tertullian, in his work against Praxeas, affirming that the Persons in Deity are "tres, non statu, sed gradu;" while, in his work against Hermogenes, he affirms expressly" divinitas non gradum habet, utpote uni"ca." Certainly both cannot be true in the same sense; therefore the word gradus must have been understood by Tertullian in different senses.
But, as "the testimony of the Fathers" is held to be of such weight in the scale of controversy, and is always resorted to, in bar of any attempt to innovate on what is deemed "standard doctrine,” I mean to offer, for the edification of the theological student, two observations, which he will do well to bear in mind, when such testimony is presented to his view.
1. It will not be denied, that, in explication of Scripture, some parts of which are "hard to be "understood," even the Fathers were liable to mistake. For this opinion, I can produce no
meaner authority than that of Archbishop Laud, whose admiration, and imitation of the Fathers of the Christian church, cannot be questioned. This venerable prelate asserts, that the current expo'sition of writers is a strong, probable, argument for the sense of an article or canon of the church, yet but probable: the current exposition of the " Fathers themselves has sometimes missed the sense of the church'. The Fathers were doubtless the worthiest of men-but still men they were: men of like passions, and with like infirmities as others of the same species. They were, to use Archbishop Laud's words, extra concilium,' not infallible; and to infallibility they never so much as pretended.
I am willing to admit, in all its force, the doctrine of the charismata,' or gifts, But, let it be always remembered, that long prior to the æra of an Athanasius, &c. those charismata, (allowing that they had been generally dispensed), had ceased to be dispensed. Therefore against the supposed possibility of mistake, no argument can be drawn from them. Nor is it in any respect derogatory to the testimony of the Fathers, as witnesses of fact, that we do not give them implicit credit as arbiters of faith. Not however to dwell longer on a subject, which may be thought injurious to the memory of martyrs and confessors, and, in itself, of dangerous admission in a youthful mind, I hasten to offer my
See Heylin's Life of Laud, p. 181.
Ild observation, to which, I trust, that neither reason nor modesty will object. It is possible, that we ourselves may, at this distant period, mistake and • miss the sense of the Fathers: more especially the sense of the Grecian Fathers, who were the earli est, and for a long time, the most numerous class of christian writers.
The original language of one division of the Holy Bible was the Greek language; and, for many years, the only version of the other division was also written in the Greek tongue. Although however this language, during the respective æras of the Septuagint translators, and of the Apostles and Evangelists, was vernacular to the most conspicuous body of christians, yet to us the Greek language has long been a dead language, the knowledge of which can be acquired only by laborious study. Had the writings of these venerable worthies been drawn up in modern English, the argument from their authority, upon which so much stress is laid, would have been, in a great measure, irresistible. But, as matters are with us, to understand the Fathers requires the same labour and application which are requisite to the understanding of the Scriptures themselves. Both must be examined and studied, with equal industry and atten*tion, before we can apprehend the sense of the writer; and it will be found, upon trial, as easy to interpret the one as the other,
It being therefore the result of our own daily experience, that the language of the Fathers is as foreign, and difficult of apprehension as is the language of Scripture; and, in no respect, intelligible to us, without previous erudition, and painful investigation, two questions arise, (though questions which involve their own answers), Whether the Scriptures, or the writings of the primitive Fathers, ought to supply us with the articles of our faith? and, as the language of both stands to us in the same predicament, Which of them is to form the test, by which we are to discover the sense of the other?
I need not enlarge on these topics, nor detain the reader, by entering on a fuller discussion of them. I shall merely add, that the observations now briefly submitted to his notice, are, in my estimation, worthy of more devout regard, than what hitherto, I fear, has been bestowed upon the subject matter of them. I am completely aware, that the latter observation may be turned against myself, and against the weak attempt which it is the purpose of these letters to make, to rescue the young and inexperienced candidate for the ministry, from the trammels of a system of theology, to which alone the palm of orthodoxy has been, for ages, awarded. And I fully expect to be told by some flippant critic, that the eminent masters in Israel,' from whose system I am foolhardy enough to dissent, were men of skill and talent, so superior to their humble opponent, and possessed of a knowledge