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without models it may be long, but without rivals it seems almost impossible that we should ever attain to excellence; industry will soon languish, and self-complacency be easily satisfied; but with fair competition and fair encouragement, we have no reason in time to fear a world against us.-Without reproach we may at this day use the words of one of our countrymen,
whose merits Italy herself was the first to acknowledge: we are
“ a nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious, and piercing spirit; acute to invent, subtile, and sinewy to discourse; not beneath the reach of any point, the highest, that human capacity can soar to.”
ART. W. The Claims of Dr. Priestley in the Controversy with Bishop Horsley, restated and vindicated, &c. By Thomas Belsham. pp. 104. Johnson.
A Plea for Unitarian Dissenters: in a Letter of Exposiulation, &c. By Robert Aspland. pp. 139. Hackney. Johnson.
IN uniting these productions in the same paper, we are not merely influenced by the relation in which their authors stand; as “mighty men of renown” in the sect of which we are informed they are the leaders. Though they pursue their purpose by a different route, the object to which they tend, as menacing our Establishment, is identical. While the one works under the foundation, laid in the remotest antiquity; the other directs his artillery against the superstructure, raised and adorned by our ancestors. The magnitude of their attempts would not, we are conscious, so far compensate for the imbe
cility of the execution ; as to justify us in making their works
the object of extended consideration. But the splendor of Bishop Horsley's name still gives importance to the subject, which the restless and meddling confidence of Mr. Thomas Belsham has revived, and still continues to-obtrude upon the public notice. And as our attention is principally challenged
to the controversy in which he engaged with Dr. Priestley; a
review of the claims of these writers cannot be an unacceptable offering to our readers. -
To form a just idea of the controversy, and of the pleasing perplexity into which it wandered under the management of Dr.
Priestley, we must keep our view steadily fixed on the different. objects, which the disputants respectively laboured to establish.
The statement of this preliminary point we shall take, without - ... • 3 exception
exception or diminution, from Dr. Priestley's last view of the Controversy.
“What I undertook to prove, from what is now extant concerning the state of opinions in early times was, that the faith of the primitive church was Unitarian. On the contrary, Bishop Horsley said that it must have been Trinitarian, because that doctrine appears in the writings of Barnabas and Ignatius.” Priestley’s Tracts, p. 472. - - * * * : -
This object being proposed by the disputants, the weight of authority by which the Unitarian champion carried the question against his Orthodox opponent, is thus stated in “ The Claims of Dr. Priestley restated and vindicated, by Thomas Belsham.”
“ upon the whole he had made good his allegations, and particularly, That in his assertion of the perfect Unitarianism of the great body of Hebrew Christians, he was supported by Tertullian, Athanasius, Epiphanius, and above all by the learned and celebrated Origen.” Pref. p. iii. - - > * > - r
Such was the object to be attained; and such the means by which it has been accomplished; to the infinite satisfaction of the Unitarian champions, and the great edification of their readers. But on observing the immense disparity which exists between the testimony of four witnesses, and “what is now extant concerning the state of opinions in early times;" it appears at least requisite, that this testimony should be full and consistent. On comparing the means applied, with the end to be accomplished, it seems necessary, that the evidence of those wituesses should go directly to the establishment of the point at issue, “ that the faith of the primitive church was Unitarian.” This, however, is so far from being the case, that it is not even pretended. On reverting to the the fundamental question on which Bishop Horsley and Dr. Priestley divided, the curiosity of the matter is, that the witnesses challenged by the latter, when heard fully out, deliver a testimony. unequivocally in favour of his opponent. As far as the general testimony of Tertullian, Origen, Athanasius and Epiphanius may be taken, as equivalent or exclusive of “what is now extant concerning the state of opinions in early times;” it admits of no dispute, that they have not merely declared it to be their opinion, but have represented it to be the common opinion of their times",
* Tert adv. Prax. cap. ii. p. 501. c. sqq. Orig. de Princip. Lib. I. cap. i. § 2.4. Tom. I. p. 47. Sqq. S. Athan. De Decret. Syn. Nicaen. Tom. I. p. 233. Expos, Psalm. lxviii. Tom. II. p. 1134. d. S. Epiphan. Haer. xxxi. p. 202, b. - . . . . . . . . .”
that “the faith of the primitive church—must have been Trinitarian.” Although those early writers have not delivered any testimony, on the main point of dispute, “the faith of the Primitive Church,” which can be tortured into a proof in favour of the original assumption, “ that it was Unitarian;” they have dropped some
obscure and casual expressions on the state of the early Heretics,
which the patrons of that notion find fully adequate to answer their purpose, and consequently press into their service. Out of the four witnesses cited in evidence, three, it is true, are rather stubborn and reserved, in stating anything to the purpose; and as such, the Unitarian advocate is somewhat shy in appealing
to their authority. This deficiency of evidence is, however, fully'
made up by the testimony of one who was a host in strength;
mustering confidence proportionable to the alliance, he now man
fully avows, “ that in his assertion of the perfect Unitarianism of the great body of the Hebrew Christians he is supported—above all, by the learned and celebrated Origen.” . . . . . .
The examination of this witness we shall reserve for a proper
occasion. We shall in the mean time claim the liberty of offer-,
ing a word in reply to the testimony of the other witnesses summoned on the part of the Unitarians. And although the allegers of this evidence have exhibited rare specimens of their talent at quotation, we shall admit this testimony, according to their own interpretation; having that experience of the weakness of our opponents, which renders us secure, that with whatever weapons they may be supplied, they must be harmless in the hands of the
imbecile. The comfort which Dr. Priestley derives to himself,
from the testimony of Tertulliau and St. Athanasius", he expresses in the following terms:
“ Nothing can well be more evident than that Tertullian represents the great body of unlearned christians in his times as Unitarians, and even holding the doctrine of the Trinity in great abhorrence. It is hardly possible in any form of words to describe this state of things more clearly than he does.” Priestl. Tracts, p. 217.“ like Tertullian, he [Athanasius] acknowledged the unitarian doctrine to be very prevalent among the lower class of people in his own time. He calls them the of woxxoi, the many, and describes them as persons of “low understanding. Things that are sublime and difficult,” he says, “are not to be apprehended except by faith; and ignorant people must fall, if they cannot be persuaded to rest in faith, and avoid curious questions.” Id. Ibid. p. 55.
* Tert... adv. Prax. cap. iii. p. 502. a s. Athan de Incarn. Verb, contr. Paul, Samosat. Tom. I. p. 591. ed. 1686. L. - t
Let it be only imagined, however, that these Unitarians were Sabellians, and when the opinions of these heretics respecting the person of Christ are known, they will leave the testimony of those witnesses somewhat less than useless to those, who assert his proper humanity. We have already supplied the text, on which we expatiate, from Dr. Priestley; we subjoin the com
mentary from the same curious reasoner.
“ Tertullian lived in Africa where there seems to have been a
greater inclination for the Unitarian doctrine than there was at
Rome, as we may collect from the remarkable popularity of Sabel-
The meaning thus assigned to their words challenges the support.
of higher vouchers than it finds in the incautious concession of Dr. Priestley; it is unquestionably established by the context of . Tertullian and St. Athanasius, and the circumstances under which
.* That Tertullian and St. Athanasius allude, in the passages cited supr. p. 506. n. *. to the Sabellians, cannot admit of a doubt.
(1) The testimony of both is delivered in tracts expressly written against the followers of Sabellius. (2) They both speak in the same terms, of the effect, which the doctrine of the Trinity had upon those Unitarians. Tert, ibid. evpavescunt ad Oeconomiam. S. Athan. Contr. Greg. Sabel. Tom. III. p. 41. b. xii; 3, Yow, txst; Haripa. o.o. poss to ová32. (3) Tertullian in his context, clearly shews, that the Unitarians to whom he alludes, were Sabellians. Ibid. cap. iii. p. 502. a.-“expavescunt ad CEconomiam : numerum et dispositionem TRINITATIs divisionem praesumunt UNITATIs.--Monarchiam inquiunt tenemus.” (Economia; however was the term which the Orthodox opposed to the Monarchia of the Sabellians, to contradistinguish their doctrine. Id. ibid. cap. ii. p. 501. b. “Nos vero & semper et nunc magis, ut instructiores per Paracletum deductorem scilicet omnis veritatis, unicum quidem Deum credimus; sub hac tamen dispensatione, quam .CEconomiam dicinus,” &c. Hence Tertullian describes his opponents under the term, Monarchiani; Ibid. cap. x. p. 505, a.o“ neque Pater idem et Filius, ut sint ambo unus, quod vanissimiisti Monarchiani volunt.” - - . .
- - they
they delivered their testimony. To appreciate the weight of this evidence, so triumphantly challenged by our opponents, we may appeal to the authority of the same witnesses, on the opinions of the Sabellians. So far, however, were they from agreeing with the Unitarians in considering Christ a mere Man; that, straining many a pitch above the highest Orthodoxy, they asserted that he was, not merely God, but God the Father”. We now refer it back to Mr. Thomas Belsham to shew us, how far the testimony of ten thousand such witnesses may go, in establishing what he has undertaken to make good, on the part of his revered and learned friend; “that in his assertion of the perfect Unitarianism of the
great body of Hebrew Christians, he is supported by Tertullian
and Athanasius,” &c. - Of how little use soever the accounts are found which are extant respecting the Sabelliams, those respecting the Ebionites are more promising to the cause of Unitarianism; as they rejected the doctrine of our Lord's divinity. As the former afford an opportunity for citing the testimony of Tertullian and St. Athanasius; the latter furnish an oceasion of appealing to the testimony of Origen and St. Epiphanius: and thus, however defective the tuitarian theories are in learned authority, it cannot be denied, their margins are decorated with learned quotation. Wishing to reserve the best dish of our literary repast for the last, we shall still defer the dissection of “the learned and celebrated Origen.” The logical skill by which it is proved, by Epiphanius's aidt, that the Nazarenes were the same as the Ebionites, and both identical with the primitive Jewish believers, is thus oracularly laid down by the great advocate of the cause at issue.
“Concerning the Nazarenes,”—Epiphanius “says that they were Jews in all respects, except “that they believed in Christ; but I do not know whether they hold the miraculous conception, or not.” This amounts to no more than a doubt, which he afterwards abandoned, by asserting that the Ebionites held the same opinion concerning Christ with the Nazarenes, which opinion he expressly states to be their belief, that Jesus was a mere man, and the son of Joseph.” Id. ibid. pp. 28, 29.