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FLATT'S DISSERTATION

ON THE

DEITY OF

OF CHRIST.

The doctrine of the deity of Christ, as revealed in the word of God, is a mystery so high and transcendent in its nature, that we can scarcely wonder at the almost infinite diversity of sentiment existing in relation to it. But neither the abstruseness of the subjectin itself, nor the discrepancy of men's notions with respect to it, is sufficient to justify us in declining the investigation as desperate and useless, or in rashly setting down all hypothesis and theories as equally fallacious. Those who take the former course, and withhold their attention from the subject altogether, would do well to consider the presumption and ingratitude of wilfully remaining ignorant of that which God would have them know; and at the same time, to bear in mind, that, in propounding these obscure and mystic doctrines, one design of the Almighty, no doubt, was, to teach men experimentally the limits of their intellectual capacity, and the utter inadequacy of the human faculties, to grasp, in their whole extent, the invisible things of God.

As to those, who are so bewildered in the mazes of conflicting and confused polemics, that they cannot, or dare not, choose any definite opinion from among the many which have been proposed, I shall only say, that they must either be extremely inexpert in measuring the relative force of difficulties and objections; or else so unreasonably rigorous in estimating evidence, as to reject all proof that is short of demonstration. Let such consider, that when called upon to

form an opinion upon any doubtful and contested subject, they are not expected to produce a theory encumbered with no difficulties, but merely to give the preference to that which is encumbered with the least; and which barmonizes best, not with a few detached expressions of the word of God, but with the whole tenor and spirit of the scriptures,

That no theory, which has ever been promulgated respecting the divinity of Christ, so well merits this description, as the doctrine of our church set forth in her confessions, it is my design to prove: in the prosecution of which object my method shall be this; to show, in the first place, that the doctrine in question, has more evidence, positively in its favor, than all others--and secondly, that it is open to less serious objection.

SECTION I.

Containing an exposition and defence of the scriptural

arguments for the divinity of Christ.

An essential preliminary to my argument is a distinct exposition of the doctrine, which I undertake to prove. This of course, requires not merely an acquaintance with the form in which it is propounded, but an accurate idea of the genuine import of the expressions used. To this point, therefore, I shall first address myself. I would remark, then, that there are two phrases, which the church has borrowed from the Fathers, and employed for the purpose of expressing briefly the sum and substance of its doctrine with respect to the deity of Christ. The first is, that the Son of God is oustios, or consubstantial with the Father; the second, that the Father and the Son are distinct UTOOSQOEis or persons. As both the Greek terms here employed are somewhat ambiguous and obscure, it becomes a question of essential moment, what they do in themselves legitimately signify, and in what sense they are adopted by the church.

As to the word opsolos, the first question which presents itself is this: does it, in its application to the Son of God, imply a numerical identity of essence, or does it merely intimate, that the Father and the Son are the same xas' xolav that is to say, are specifiically alike, having so far a common nature as to be reducible to the same species? There can be no doubt, that the latter sense is fully authorized both by the classics and the Fathers.* Dionysius Alexandrinus, for example, says, that Christ, considered as a man, is ousolos muevet and the same expression is employed, in a sense evidently similar, in the formula prescribed by the council of Chalcedon. Nay, it might easily be proved, that the word was not understood as denoting numerical identity of essence by the Nicene Fathers themselves, who introduced the expression into the language of the church. Be that as it may, the fact is certain, that in later times, the term has been understood by Catholics to mean, that the sdia, of the Father and the Son is numerically identical, or one and the same; which opinion is adhered to by our own church, as appears expressly from the words of her confession.

We shall find as little difficulty in determining the sense attached to the word xdsa by the church, when used in application to the Father and the Son. It is very true, that it has also a variety of meanings, and is used, in more than one, by the Fathers themselves. But at the same time, it is very

.

* See Doederlein's Instit. Theol. Christ. P. I. p. 376. not. c.

Η Ει μεν εν OMΟΥΣΙΟΣ εστιν ο υιος, και την αυτην ημιν έχει γενεσιν: εστω και κατα τασο και ο υιος αλλοτριος κασασιαν σε πατρος, (Alnvadix regi Alovuo18.) See Bibl. der Kirchen. T. II. p. 380. See Fuchs' Bibliothek der Kirchenversammlungen, Vol. I. P.

386. August. Conf. Art. I. Art. Smalcald. P. I. &c. The same conclusion may be drawn from the profession of faith made by the sect condemned, in form. Concord. XII. p. 829, &c. (Ed. Rechenb.)

See S. R. Doederleio. p, 373. obs. 3 :-also, Fuchs' Bib. Kirch. P. I. p. 386. pot. 33.

clear, that in the language of our church, it is always used to denote the divine essence; that is, either the substance or nature of God, generally, or in a more restricted sense, the aggregate of all those attributes, which Natural Theology ascribes to God, whether derived from the abstract idea of supreme perfection, or, by induction, from the works of nature ; such as eternity, self-existence, omnipotence, &c. The following is the definition of the term, given in the Augustan Confession. “ There is one divine essence which is called God, and is God; eternal, incoporeal, indivisible, omnipotent, infinitely wise and good, the creator of all things visible, and invisible."*

It appears, then, that the first of the two formulas before recited, viz: that the Son of God is Ouidios, or consubstantial with the Father, was intended by the charch to signify, that the Father and the Son are partakers of one and the same infinite substance; and that the attributes by which the Father is distinguished from all finite things, as being an infinitely perfect spirit, the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, are numericaly identical with the attributes of the Son, (not merely similar or equal) and are common to both, without multiplication or division,

But though the divine essence, common to the Father and the Son, is thus numerically identical and one, the church, notwithstanding, teaches, that there is between them a real intrinsic difference; to express which difference, this formula is used–The Father and the Son are two distinct persons. This word person (a goowmov, umodradis) is, in itself, no less vague and ambiguous than oudotos. Its meaning, however, may be readily discovered and precisely fixed, by referring to the object of the orthodox, in using the term

* Una est esssentia divina, quæ appellatur et est Deus, æternus, incoporeus, impartibilis, immensa potentia, sapientia, bonitate, creator and conservator omnium rerum, visibilium et invisibilium. (Augustan Confession, Art. I.)

at all. For it is very clear that the early Catholics, as well as the modern Trinitarians of other churches, have uniformly introduced this word into their professions of belief for the purpose of drawing a more marked distinction between orthodoxy and Sabellianism ; and of more effectually guarding the true church from that and other kindred heresies. We are not, therefore, to understand the phrase in question in the same sense as when we say of men, that they are different persons ; for that would destroy the numerical unity of God. Nor on the other hand, is the hypothesis admissible, that the difference is merely nominal or logical-in other words, that Father and Son are different names for the same thing, or at most, serve only to distinguish different parts and affections, exterior relations, or modes of thought and action, in the self-same substance-or to denote the difference between the substance itself, and its own attributes and operations.* This exposition of the formula, though expressed altogether in negative terms, is, in my opinion, a substantial one. Indeed, as the very nature of the subject precludes the possibility of a comparison with any thing which is the subject of our knowledge or experience, it follows, of course, that we cannot conceive, much less define, it otherwise than negatively. Besides all which, we have historical evidence of the inextricable difficulties, in which those theorists have been involved, who have attempted to define this personal distinction between the Father and the Son with mathematical precision. In all such attempts of the kind as I have seen, the definition is either less intelligible than the thing defined, or is such as to land

* The Augustan confession thus defines the sense of the word person. “Nomine personæ utuntur ea significatione, qua usi sunt in bac causa scriptores ecclesiastici, ut significet non partem aut qualitatem n alio, sed quod proprie subsistit."

† See Storr über den Zweck der evangelischen geschichte, und der briefe Joliannis. Tubing. 1786. p. 474, &c.

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