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I acknowledge that it is a complication of subtleties,” says one of its learned and able defenders,“ but to guard Christianity against the attacks of its adversaries, the verbose rhetoricians of the day, it was necessary to fight them with their own weapons, and by opposing subtleties to subtleties, exhibit an acknowledged and generally received truth, in the technical phrases and verbal niceties of its enemies."
On a subject, which has, for ages, alarmed the fears, or roused the zeal of niany great and many good men, lietle of novelty can be produced; the question, indeed, can never be satisfactorily or finally settled, until we have determined whether reason is, or is not necessary in matters of revelation.
I appeal to every considerate orthodox member of our establishment, I appeal to every rational Christian, to lay their hands on their hearts, and to say, whether it is possible to peruse this creed without suspense, or to assent to it without hesitation : how painful then must be the task, how keen the regrets of many a worthy clergyman of the church of England, who, at stated intervals, is compelled to declare, with its unknown compiler, that an absolute and ụnqualified agreement with its elaborate doctrines, is, BEFORE ALL THINGS, necessary to salvation; that he, who in the struggle of reason tramples on its tenets, or in the timidity of mental reservation, evades its abstruse mysteries, shall, without doubt, PERISE EVER
I am convinced that the intricacies of this ecclesiastic scale, in which unity and polytheism tremble on the balance, or alternately kick the beam, joined with the inhumanity of the obnoxious clauses, and the unaccommodating zeal, with which, in some instances, they have been insisted on; I am convinced that these untoward circumstances have driven many individuals from the pale of our national church, and ultimately into the disconsolate wilds of Deism ; for doubt or disgust once excited, seldom remains at rest, in a studious contemplative mind.
“ The thirty-second verse of the thirteenth chapter of St. Mark,” says a divine of the establishment, “ clears all my doubts, and at once quiets my mind on the subject ; ‘of that day and hour knoweth no man, neither the angels which are in Heaven, nor the Son, but the Father :' Is not this,” continues the same writer, “ is not this a regular climax, beginning with the lowest order of intelligent beings, and ascending gradually to the highest? Is not the knowledge of the day of judgment denļed, first to men, then to angels, then to the Son of God?”
In answer to this quotation, it hath been said, that by the law of scripture analogy, passages, which apparently contradict the Athanasian hypothesis, should be accommodated to those which confirm it; a canon of theological criticism, to which every man will agree, the moment he is convinced that the author of the creed in question was divinely inspired and infallible; and it cannot be denied, that texts occur in the holy scriptures, equally favourable to a different explanation..
But waving the divine authority and scriptural correctness of this part of our liturgy, is it consistent with the opinion we are taught to entertain of Almighty God, whose wisdom, as well as mercy, appears in all his works; is it possible to suppose that he would have insisted on the belief of a speculative opinion, as essentially necessary to salvation, without a plain, clear, and open avowal of it!
Would it not repeatedly and explicitly have been laid down, and alike by all the inspired writers of the New Testament, as a fundamental principle of the Christian revelation; a sine qua non previous to the admission of any person to share its benefits ?
Would the Creator of the world, in whom omnipotence and intelligence are evidently united, would he have left the present peace and the future destiny of a considerable portion of mankind to depend on the heated imaginations, and the interested decisions of polemic rhetoricians, on a letter, a syllable, or a word, on 8016 and νπόσασις, οη ομοιεσίαν or ομοεσιαν; on the difference between a person and a being; a difference which is not easy to imagine, and I think impossible to describe?
If, as is the opinion of many, the soundness of whose faith, and the goodness of whose intention, I have neither right nor inclinar tion to call in question; if the entire removal of the Athanasian Creed, from our national liturgy, is thought, at the present crisis, unsafe and inexpedient, long may it remain; for I confess with shame and regret, that it is a subject, on which, after many a bitter struggle, I have not yet formed a decided opinion : indeed, of what avail is doctrinal investigation and speculative opinion, without that more essential orthodoxy, a pure heart, and an amended life!!
But justice, humanity, and good policy require, that the reading it, or not reading it, should be left to the discretion of the minister, who is too often obliged to submit to that most odious compromise, religious hypocrisy, or to relinquish the support of his family,
This salutary and reasonable regulation was approved of and proposed by Archbishop Tillotson, by the Bishops Taylor, Pearson, Beverley, and Clayton; by the learned and pious Doctors Cave, Hole, Bennett, and lastly, by that eminent divine, as well as great lawyer, Lord Chancellor King.
“ On the other hand, it hath been observed by some of its defenders, that an implicit, orthodox, pure, uncontaminated faith, is more manageable in a state, and more conducive to the peace of the church, thari rational conviction, or the hallowed warmth of sincere devotion. I once pronounced, and I again repeat my emphatic protest against such an ocious, abominable, time-serving system, which strips from religion consolation and purity of heart, and in their place, wraps round it a party-coloured robe of worldly policy, and disgraces a countenance divine, with a mask of atheistic perfidy.
If once an opinion should be impressed on the great body of the people, that, in matters of religion, profession and helief do not go hand in hand, the church of any country, under such circunıstances, totters to its foundation, sooner or later it must fall, and Christianity, however its flourishing may be insisted on by some, as wholly independent of worldly support, Christianity may be buried in its ruins. This awful, this momentous truth, confirmed by past ages, and evinced by present example, I would wish to impress strongly on prelates and statesmen.
“ Whoever,” says a late writer, “ believes that Jesus Christ is, in a sense in which no other being ever was, the son of God; that he came into the world to lay down his life for sinful men; and that acceptance is only to be obtained through his merits and intercession; whoever, in consequence of such belief, conforms his life to the law of Christ, seems to do all of importance towards his salyation, fulfils the gospel conditions, and thereby answers the end of the gospel covenant."
The following is part of the speech of Dr. Clayton, a bishop in Ireland, on his making a motion in the house of peers for expunging the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds; a motion, which the primate declared, 'MADE HIS EARS TINGLE.'
“ The Athanasian Creed,” said Dr. Clayton," has not even the authority of a council to support it, but is now a known forgery, detected by the criticisms of the learned Vossius; it cannot be traced within two hundred years of Athanasius.
* Perhaps it may be asked, How comes it then to bear his
name! The answer is, that it agrees with the Athapasian doctrine, and had his name affixed to it, by the church of Rome, because he was a person much esteemed by that church, which has long laboured to propagate his political and religious principles; but as the true character of Athanasius is not generally known, I beg leave to inform your lordships who and what he was.
“ Athanasius was a young, forward, petulant deacon, in the church of Alexandria, of an ambitious spirit, and with talents ado inirably suited for disputation.
“ Having no probability of succeeding to the bishopric of Alexandria, unless he could drive out Arius, who was the senior presbyter in that church; he fomented a dispute on the subject of the Trinity between the archbishop and Arius, who being obstinate, uncomplying, or sincere, was excommunicated and expelled from the city.
“ The old prelate died not long after, when Athanasius, only twenty-eight years of age, by `a union of force and corruption, ascended the archiepiscopal throne, was illegally consecrated, and confirmed in his see by the Emperor Constantine,
“ But the turbulent arrogance of his spirit was not to be controlled by gratitude, nor by policy; he grossly insulted his benefactor, the emperor, and treated Constantius, his successor, with insolence and contempt; for this, and many irregularities, he was deposed by a numerous council of bishops, regularly assembled; but, in defiance of ecclesiastic discipline, and the laws of decency and justice, he forced his way into the see, over the murdered bodies of bis antagonists, and made a forcible and bloody entrance into the cathedral.
“ All the enormities I have mentioned were committed with the concurrence of the Vatican; for it ought to be observed, that wine Athanasins treated his royal master, and the rest of mankind, with insult and defiance, he paid servile court and implicit obedience to the papal chair.
“ This slavish submission, paid by Athanasius to Julius, is the first precedent that can be produced, in the books of the canon law, in support of the supremacy of the pope, who, till that time, was considered as little more than bishop of Rome.
“ Your lordships will be so good as to observe, that I do not take upon me to say that the doctrine contained in the Athanasian Creed is false; I only say, that it is not plainly aud clearly revealed; uor do I presume to condemn those who think they have evidence
sufficient to justify their being peremptory and positive in support
I judge no man, I only say it contains a doctrine of too nice, difficult, and metaphysical a nature, to be made the subject of a creed, directed to be read by the minister, and repeated by the congregation,
“ But, my lords, let us suppose for argument's sake, that the doctrine contained in this Creed should be wrong, and unless the author was, what no human being ever was, infallible, there is a possibility that it may be so; in that case, let us only imagine what would be the consequence—it would be no less than blasphemy; it is indeed the dread and terror of an erroneous determination, on so delicate a point, that makes me solicitous to remove it from the liturgy.”
In answer to the bishop, it was observed, that his disapproving the Athanasian Creed was by no means a sufficient reason for rejecting it; that he should have been direct, explicit, and particular in pointing out how far it agreed or disagreed with the holy scriptures, which, after all, are the only true standard by which such questions can be properly decided.
It has often been lamented, that the doors of admission into the church of England were not more liberally widened. On this subject it was said by a writer who has been justly accused of treating serious subjects with too much levity; on this occasion he observed, “ that there were many good things in the church, for which the candidates were numerous, in general more than the good mother can effectually provide for, that by adding breadth to the door, the number of those who enter would of course be proportionately increased, and the share of ecclesiastic loaves and fishes to be divided among the orthodox proportionately diminished."
The following were the original words of Athanasius, in his dispute with Arius, at the council of Nice, in the year three hundred and twenty-five.
Πιστευω εις ενα θεον πατερα παντοκρατορα, αειoντα θεον σαλερα, και εις τον θεον λογον, τον μονογενη υιον τε θεε, ο τι συνυπαρχει το δια πατρι, και ο τι εκ της εσιας ελος θεε και σατρος εσιν ο νιος, και • τι ισος ο γιος το σαλρος τυνκανει, ος οι ισοτιμος εσιν ο υιος ελος, θεα και οτι συν τω παθει αυθε σαρεσι σανlαχε τη θεοληθι, και οι σανία περιεχει τη εσια αυθα, και οι και τεριεχείαι απο εδενος ο νιος ελος θεα καθαπις ο θεος • αλης αυθε. Και εις το πνευμα τον αγιον olo