Introduction To Dogmatic Theology
on the Basis of The Thirty-Nine Articles
by E. A. Litton
Third Edition Edited by H. G. Grey, 1912
[Footnotes have been moved near or into places of citation in square brackets.
Bible citations have been converted to all Arabic numerals. Spelling slightly adjusted.]
I have heard with great thankfulness of the Publisher’s decision to issue a new edition of Litton’s Introduction to Dogmatic Theology. It is a work which ought to be in the hands of every one who is engaged in preparing either others or himself for the pastoral office. To say that it is the product of ripe scholarship would sound impertinent in the ears of those who know anything about Litton and his writings: but there is another merit to which I can refer more freely, and that is that the work is true to its name; it is a treatise on dogmatic theology: it is free from the limitations to which commentaries on the Thirty-nine Articles are necessarily subject: it is a comprehensive, balanced, thorough treatment of dogmatic theology from the standpoint of a loyal son of the Church of England.
Arthur J. Tait, Ridley Hall, Cambridge.
1. The Province of Dogmatic Theology 2. The Literature of the Subject
THE RULE OF FAITH
Summary of the ‘Articles’ 3. The Canon of Scripture 4. The Inspiration of Scripture
5. The Relation of the Old Testament to the New
Summary of Articles and Confessions
PART I – ONE GOD
6. Natural Theism
A. – The Existence of God
7. A First Cause 8. An Intelligent First Cause. Final Causes 9. The Ontological Argument
10. The Moral Nature of Man 11. The Consent of Mankind
B. – The Nature of God. 12. Infinity
C. – The Attributes of God.
13. Origin and Divisions 14. Omnipresence 15. Omnipotence 16. Omniscience
17. Goodness, Holiness, Righteousness, Mercy
D. – 18. The Works of God
19. Creation 20. Conservation 21. Providence 22. Evil – Especially Moral Evil
PART II – THE HOLY TRINITY
23. One God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost 24. The Immanent Trinity
25. Ecclesiastical Definitions 26. Natural Analogies 27. Concluding Remarks
MAN BEFORE AND AFTER THE FALL Sections 28 thru 58
Summary of Articles and Confessions
28. The Creation. of Man 29. Dichotomy or Trichotomy?
30. Image of God – Original Righteousness 31. Freedom-Immortality
32. Traducianism or Creationism? 33. The Angels 34. Good and Bad Angels – Satan
35. The Fall of Man 36. Prevalence of Actual Sin 37. Original Sin as the Root of Actual
38. Original Sin as the Transmission of Guilt – Pelagian Controversy
39. Original Sin as the Corruption of Nature 40. Freedom of the Will
THE PERSON AND WORK OF CHRIST
Summary of Articles and Confessions
PART I. – THE PERSON OF CHRIST
41. The Incarnation of the Logos 42. The Twofold State (humilitationis et exaltationis)
43. Born of a Woman – Growth in Wisdom and Stature 44. Tempted, yet without Sin
45. The Miraculous Conception
46. The Descent into Hell 47. Resurrection, Ascension, Session at the Right Hand of God
48. Council of Chalcedon 49. Kenosis, or Exinanition, of the Logos
50. The Hypostatical Union 51. Personal Propositions. Communication of the Attributes
PART II. – THE WORK OF CHRIST
52. The Threefold Office 53. The Prophetical Office 54. The Sacerdotal Office
55. The Sacerdotal Office, Theory of Anselm
56. The Sacerdotal Office, Active and Passive Obedience
57. The Sacerdotal Office, Extent of the Atonement 58. The Regal Office
ORDER OF SALVATION (INDIVIDUAL) Sections 59 thru 69
Summary of Articles and Confessions
PART I. – CALLING
59. Connection of the Word and the Holy Spirit 60. Effectual Calling 61 Conversion
PART II – JUSTIFICATION
62. The Etymology of the Word 63. The Witness of the Spirit
64. The Doctrine of Formal Causes 65. Justifying Faith 66. The Doctrine of Assurance
67. Degrees of Justification 68. Baptismal Justification
69. Purgatory in relation to Justification
PART III. – REGENERATION Sections 70 thru 84
70. The Definition of the Term 71. Unio Mystica 72. Sanctification 73. Good Works
74. Final Perseverance of the Saints 75. The Doctrine of Election
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
Summary of Articles and Confessions
PART I – THE CHURCH
76. Definition of the Term 77. The Visible and Invisible Church
78. Connection of Invisible Church with Visible 79. Christ as Head of the Church
80. The Christian Ministry 81. The Polity of the Church 82. The Power of the Clergy (the Keys)
83. The Primacy of the Bishop of Rome 84. Church and State
PART II – THE MEANS OF GRACE Sections 85 thru 101
A. – The Word.
85. Preaching. 86. Prayer in the Name of Christ
B. – The Sacraments
87. Definitions. 88. The Number of the Sacraments 89. Opus Operatum
90. Intention of the Minister 91. Effect of the Sacraments
92. Circumcision and the Passover 93. Baptism 94. Infant Baptism
95. Institution of the Eucharist 96. Doctrine of the Real Presence
97. Ubiquity of a Glorified Body 98. Transubstantiation 99. The Sacrifice of the Mass
100. The Benefits of the Eucharist 101. Controversy of the Reformers on the Real Presence
ESCHATOLOGY Sections 102 thru 112
Introduction 102. Death
103. Survival of the Soul 104. Consciousness 105. Development 106. Probation
108. Chiliasm 109. Resurrection of the Body 110. The Judgment. 111. Apokatastasis
112. New Heavens and a New Earth
Introductory Remarks on the Study of Dogmatic Theology
There seem to be two tendencies at work among us in the study of Dogmatic Theology which are in distinct opposition to one another. On the one hand, we may notice an increasing number of books which offer to give a more or less complete account of Christian theology, and which present, in fact, a dogmatic system. They may not pretend to be more than sketches of a vast subject, but, still, they aim at being systematic sketches; and the Church is thus credited with a peculiar dogmatic system of its own, in which every doctrine has its fixed place, and by the standard of which each must be judged. It is a sort of system of theological law, of which the Church is regarded as the guardian and the master. Accordingly, we are taught to look up with a great deal of submission to a class of persons who are specially known as theologians, and who, like the inner world of lawyers, are supposed to have the key to theological arguments in a manner which is beyond the capacities of less specially trained minds. But while the dogmatic aspect of theology is thus being reasserted among us, there is another powerful tendency which is adverse, if not to dogmatic methods in general, yet at least to any such dogmatic system as that of the Mediaeval Church, or to such systems as the school of thought just mentioned would revive among ourselves. A conspicuous example may be taken from the well-known Berlin Professor, Dr. Harnack, who tells us, in his Outlines of the History of Dogma, (§ I, 10) [Dogmengeschichte, von D. Adolf Harnack, in Grundriss der Theologischen Wissenchaften, published by J. C. B. Mohr, Freiburg, i. B., Third Edition, 1898.] that the object of such a history is to get rid of dogma altogether. “By laying before us,” he says, “the process of the origin and development of dogma, it offers the most appropriate means for delivering the Church from dogmatic Christianity.” He adds, indeed, that “it also testifies to the unity of the Christian Faith in the course of its history, since it shows that the central significance of the person of Jesus Christ and the fundamental thoughts of the Gospel have never been lost, and have defied all attacks.” It seems difficult to understand a “central significance” and “fundamental thoughts” which must never be expressed in definite or dogmatic language; but, whatever the inconsistency betrayed in such a statement, the idea in the writer’s mind is sufficiently evident. He regards the dogmas which the other school of thought would impose upon us, not as cardinal truths of religion and life, but as fetters which have been woven by the human mind at various stage’s of religious life and thought, and which, by the very facts of their development, are shown to possess no permanent truth. Thus, he says, in the same connection (§ I, 6), that “the contention of the Churches that dogmas are simply the exposition of the Christian revelation, since they are deduced from Holy Scripture, is not confirmed by historical inquiry. Much rather is it the result of such inquiry that dogmatic Christianity, in its conception and its completion, is a product of the Greek mind, working on the ground of the Gospel.”
Such are the two chief opposing tendencies on this subject which may be observed at the present moment, and they appear to be each exposed to the same danger, and require to be checked by one and the same consideration. The word “dogma” is here used in the general sense of positive Christian truth, without being restricted to points of doctrine which have received some authoritative decision. In this sense both these schools of thought seem to regard such dogmas or doctrines as definite scientific statements, which lay claim to a sort of completeness, and which, when they have assumed that form, are either to be rigorously insisted upon, as a sort of final law on the subject, or, for that very reason, are to be thrown aside, as fettering the elasticity of truth. The fact, on the contrary, which seems to need, above all things, to be kept in mind, in respect to dogmas and dogmatic statements, is that they are the expressions of just so much of the truth as the human mind and heart for the time being could comprehend; that consequently they are never a complete statement of the truth, but that at the same time they possess permanent value, as the expression of a real part of truth, of more or less importance, and of more or less enduring authority, according to circumstances. Our position, therefore, with respect to a dogma or dogmatic statement which has received official sanction in the Church should not be to regard it as a final expression of the truth, still less to disparage it as having little value, on the ground of its being only a partial expression. As a partial expression of the truth it possesses a real value, but we must at the same time keep our minds and hearts open to other aspects of the same truth, and to suitable expressions of those aspects.
Let us take as an illustration that great doctrine which writers like Professor Harnack have more particularly in view, when they speak of the product of the Greek mind working upon the basis, or soil, of the Gospel – the doctrine, namely, of the Trinity, as formulated in the great creeds. It is not only true, but a truism, that the statement of that doctrine, as presented in the formal decisions of the Councils, is cast in the mould of Greek thought. The very words ουσία, υπόστασισ, ομοούσιος, and other technical expressions of the Trinitarian controversy, are, of course, the products of Greek philosophical thought; and though the great word λόγος has a Hebrew connection, yet in the mind of a Father like Origen, and the subsequent Greek Fathers who were so deeply influenced by his thoughts and language, its significance was, no doubt, profoundly coloured by its associations in Greek philosophy. We need not, surely, go to Berlin to discover these plain facts; but are the definitions of the Councils evacuated of all value or permanence by that discovery? The answer to this question depends mainly upon the value you place upon Greek thought and Greek philosophy. If that thought and that philosophy have no permanent value for mankind, then, of course, it is a matter of no importance what is the relation to it of the great truth of the Trinity – or of any great truth, whether religious or moral or historical. But if the Greek mind is but one side of the human mind – a side which may be more prominent and active at one time than at another, but which can never be without importance – then those aspects of the truth of the Trinity which were apprehended by that mind, and were expressed by it, become of permanent value to human thought; and the dogmatic statements which were the result of generations of the thought of that mind, working on the New Testament revelation of the Trinity, remain, under all circumstances, of inestimable value. There have been, perhaps, signs that those statements may prove to be of the highest importance in the presentation of the Christian revelation of God to the Indian mind; and it may possibly prove that in the struggle of Christianity with the Indian religions, we may see acted again before our eyes the very struggle of the Church of the second and third centuries with Gnosticism and Arianism. Gnosticism, as it is presented in ordinary Church histories, seems a dreary field of wild speculation; but it may be that we now see in India what the victory of Gnosticism really means, and that as Christianized Greek thought repelled Gnosticism from Europe, so now in India that thought is at last entering upon a struggle with Gnosticism triumphant. Let it be granted, then, to men like Harnack that the Nicene Creed and part of the Athanasian are in great measure expressions of the doctrine of the Trinity in terms of Greek thought; but that does not prevent their being, so far as they go, real expressions of that doctrine, and consequently having a permanent and momentous value.
But, on the other hand, the inference we thus deprecate may usefully warn us not to treat those dogmatic statements respecting the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as if they were an adequate, or even the highest, expression of the truth – as if, in fact, they enshrined it in a sort of sanctuary, within which alone it can be duly viewed. It should never be forgotten that the highest and most perfect statements on all doctrinal truths are in the Scriptures, and the Scriptures alone; and if the value of the doctrinal statements of a particular age; or of a particular mind in the Church, be given an undue prominence, they may actually tend to obscure our apprehension of part of the light which would otherwise pour upon us from Scriptural statements and revelations. There is reason to fear that this has actually been the case in respect to the doctrine of the Trinity. Suspicion, for example, has been thrown upon the genuineness of the baptismal commission of our Lord, recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel, on the ground that the mere fact of its speaking of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,”’ indicates a post-Apostolic origin. But what is this but to assume, by a strange illustration of the way in which extremes meet, that the whole and sole interpretation of the words “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” is to be found in the dogmatic decisions of the post-Apostolic Church? It is at least a very curious instance of the manner in which one extreme may play into the hands of another. The profound Scriptural words “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” have been so much associated by divines with ecclesiastical definitions, so much regarded – to use a common expression – as parts of “the baptismal formula,” that a Rationalist cannot contemplate them in any other connection, and concludes that their mere existence in a verse of a Gospel is sufficient to show that that verse cannot have had a primitive origin.
On the contrary, from a historical and unbiased point of view we may fairly argue to the primitive character of that expression, on the ground that no later writer would have been likely to state the great Name in such simple, human, and unphilosophical terms. The words are instinct with the life of our Lord’s actual teaching and actual experience. His own personal life had revealed to His disciples the Father and the Son, and their mutual relations. They had seen Him living continually in a spirit of filial dependence, acknowledging, in every word and deed, a Father from whom He came and to whom He would return, whose will it was His whole mission to fulfill, and whose fatherly relation to men He had come to reveal. “This,” He had said, “is life eternal – that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” Accordingly, He sums up His work in saying: “I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gayest Me out of the world”; and, at an earlier period of His ministry: “All things are delivered unto Me of My Father, and no man knoweth the Son but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son.” This revelation had been made not so much in words as in life. The inner life of the soul of the Saviour had been manifested to His Apostles, and they had seen before their eyes the manifestation of a Divine Father and a Divine Son. Similarly His last teaching had revealed to them the nature and the office of the Holy Spirit, and no words could have been more precious to their memories than those in which He had promised that He would not leave them comfortless, but would come to them in the person of that Spirit, who would speak to them in His own name and His Father’s.
The words in question, accordingly, are not a mere “baptismal formula”. They have behind them the whole substance, the living reminiscences of our Saviour’s life and teaching; they stamped upon the minds of the Apostles, in one pregnant phrase, the life that was manifested, which they had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears, and which their hands had handled. There lie depths in those simple personal words, “the Father, the Son, and the Spirit,” points of deep contact with the human soul in its natural relationships and its Divine kinship, which are sadly obscured if we allow them to be primarily associated in our thoughts with dogmatic and philosophical definitions of faith. It is for this reason that some, if not many – of whom the present writer must confess himself to be one – regret arrangements in our Church services which throw a too predominantly philosophical colour over this most living and most human, because most Divine, of truths; and he must own also that among the few points in which a devout son of the Church may legitimately desire some alteration in her formularies, not the least important to his mind is the Collect for Trinity Sunday, which, instead of bringing home to us by our Lord’s own touching words, respecting the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, this human character of the greatest of all Divine truths, bids the simple Christian to worship what are, after all, the mental abstractions of Trinity and Unity. In a word, we may deprecate Harnack’s disparagement of the Greek expression of one aspect of the supreme truth of the Godhead, and yet we may deem it of the highest importance not to allow that dogmatic statement, however admirable, however permanent in value for its own purposes, to narrow our view of the deeper, the broader, the more living, embodiment of that great truth in the Scriptures themselves.
This affords, in fact, a crucial instance of a cardinal principle to be borne in mind with respect to theological truth – namely, that its due apprehension is never a purely intellectual matter, but is always dependent on moral and religious experience. To a certain extent this is the case with all sciences which deal with external realities, as distinct from purely mental sciences, such as mathematics. A man may go a long way in acquiring a knowledge of astronomy or geology by mere literary study, but he can never fully master what is known of them without personal observation of the facts with which they deal. That observation itself, however, in the case of the natural sciences, is to a large extent mechanical; and a man’s success in those sciences, assuming the moral energy necessary for all successful work, is almost entirely a matter of physical and intellectual capacity. But in theology the case is entirely different. There the realities with which a man has to deal are furnished entirely by spiritual experience. Without that experience a man cannot duly apprehend the meaning of the theological terms he is using; still less can he appreciate the practical problems with which theological thought is concerned. What Coleridge has said of moral science is pre-eminently true of theology: “The postulates of geometry no man can deny; those of moral science are such as no good man will deny.” Perhaps in theology we ought rather to say they are such as no sinful man, conscious of his sinfulness, will deny. The main difficulty consists in the knowledge of our own hearts – of their weakness, their corruption, and at the same time their capacity for Divine love and truth. The primary terms of theology, the very idea of God (if He is considered as more than a mere First Cause), righteousness, sin, law, forgiveness, salvation – these are words of which, if a man is to reason about them with any correctness, he must have learned the real meaning, or something of it, by experience, often a sad and bitter experience; and the meaning of theological dogmas and theological controversies becomes apparent in the light of such experience alone.
It is here, it may be observed in passing, that the essential weakness consists of much of the rationalistic criticism of the Scriptures. It is the criticism of men who are dealing with the mere words of the Scriptures, and who know too little of the realities to which the words refer. One of Luther’s finest sayings was written by him on a slip of paper within three days of his death: “No one can understand Virgil in his Bucolics unless he has been five years a shepherd; no one can understand Virgil in his Georgics unless he has been five years a farmer; no one can thoroughly understand Cicero in his Epistles unless he has been engaged for twenty years in the public affairs of some important State; and so,” he adds, “let no one suppose that he has any real taste of the Scriptures unless he has spent a hundred years with Prophets such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ, and the Apostles, in the government of the Church.” But Mr. Mill or M. Renan can tell you offhand that our Lord’s discourses in St. John’s Gospel are “poor stuff of Alexandrian metaphysics,” and the youngest German privat-docent can dissect in cold blood an Epistle of St. Paul. The dogmas of theology, however, are the expression of truths which no mere intellectual force, but a deep and varied experience, extending now over many centuries, has extorted from those Scriptures.
This is a point of view which is, happily, being forced upon our attention, and will be forced upon it more and more, by that study of the development of dogma, which we owe mainly to the German theologians of this century. It is a strange thing to reflect that the science of the history of doctrine is little more than a century old. Two great divines indeed made important contributions to it in the middle of the seventeenth century: Petavius the Jesuit, and a man whom the Scottish Church has the honour to claim, John Forbes of Corse, Professor in the University of Aberdeen, whose Instructiones Historico-theologicae have still an honoured name, even in Germany, and should be more studied than they are among ourselves. But the systematic study of the growth of dogma, and of theological doctrine in general, cannot be dated much further back than the latter part of the eighteenth century. Perhaps it was not possible, until developments in printing had brought the vast records of ancient Christian thought, in the Fathers and mediaeval writers, within practical handling. But at the present time there is no more fruitful or more interesting branch of theological study, and it may be safely said that it is now quite out of place and fruitless to attempt to treat any dogmatic subject – such, for instance, as the Thirty-nine Articles – without following the historical development of the doctrines they embody. But that historical development, as has just been urged, is not a mere intellectual process; it does not consist in a mere evolution of ideas, by virtue of some internal necessity. It consists of the growing apprehension by the human spirit of the living spiritual realities, of which those doctrines are the expression. The content of a doctrine, so to say, is enlarged from time to time by some great spirit like Athanasius or Augustine, Anselm or Luther or Butler, who, like a spiritual Columbus, ventures on a perilous voyage – a voyage, perhaps, not without its errors and shipwrecks – to some new continent of spiritual truth, and brings back experiences which throw a fresh light on words and passages of the Scriptures, of which the full meaning had hitherto lain comparatively dormant. Such an acquisition, once made, is indeed a possession for ever; but those who would enjoy it must themselves in their turn sail the same voyage, made easier by the chart left them by the first navigator, if they are really to apprehend the meaning he has opened up in the sacred words.
Let us take a brief illustration from one of the profoundest and most inexhaustible of all Christian doctrines – that of the Atonement. There is none, perhaps, in which the development is marked more clearly by the actual spiritual experiences of the human soul. In early Christian times we find what seems to us at first, no doubt, the strange conception of a ransom having been paid to the Evil One, and of his having at the same time been deluded in his belief that he could retain in his power the sacred Soul, over which he seemed to have gained a temporary victory. Yet it will be found, perhaps, both that that theory is not in substance so absurd as it seems, and that the form of it is due to the special spiritual apprehensions of its age. In the Early Church all evil was regarded as centered in the Evil One. There is no feeling more prominent in the early Fathers than that of the personal struggle of the Saviour with the Evil One, and one of the most conspicuous aspects of Christianity in their minds is that the power of the Evil One, over the bodies and souls of men, had been broken by the Saviour. We may be sure that there was a greater reality in that aspect of the truth than can, perhaps, well be appreciated by ourselves, who have never lived, as the Fathers had lived, in a time at which St. John could say, that “the whole world lieth in the Evil One.” That was the form of the statement, and perhaps a truer form than we now realize; but as to the substance, is it not, as a matter of fact, the case that every redemption involves the payment of some ransom to evil? What is a war – a war even for the highest and noblest ends – but the payment of a tremendous ransom in precious lives, and some things more precious even than lives to the evil against which it is waged? And as to the supposed illusion of the Evil One, is it not true, is it not one of the most amazing truths, that the powers of darkness, which for the time overwhelmed our Lord, were acting under the illusion that they were really able to crush Him? Combine this substantial truth with the spiritual apprehension of personal evil which marked the early Christians, and it is, perhaps, not difficult to see that a conception of the doctrine of the Atonement, which is now too often put aside as almost grotesque, really embodies a profound truth, derived from a deep experience.
The next great step was made by Anselm. In this doctrine, as in most others, the Greek mind had seen the individual aspect of the truth, and a similarly individual apprehension of it is observable also in St. Augustine; but to St. Anselm, inheriting the conceptions of the Roman mind, there presents itself the idea of a vast Order – an Order like that which he and other great Churchmen were endeavouring to realize in the realm of the Western Church – which could only be maintained by the rigid enforcement of satisfaction for any infringement of its laws. He seeks, therefore, above all things, in the work of our Saviour, for some satisfaction to the Divine Majesty for the insult offered to it by sin. It must be owned to be a grand conception, even if, as Von Hase finely says, it reflects somewhat too much of the spirit of feudal chivalry – etwas ritterlich aufgefasst. Then came the Reformation, when the relation of all Christian truths to the individual soul is conceived with a new vividness; and then arises, especially in the mind of Luther, a deeper, if not a new, apprehension of the manner in which the Saviour unites Himself personally with the soul of every believer, makes Himself personally responsible for its sins and its evils, as a husband might do for his wife, and pleading for each soul before God His own sufferings and His own merits, throws over the sinner, in effect, His own righteousness and His own life. To the Greek, the Saviour is fighting with an external spirit of evil; to the Schoolman, He is making a sacrifice which restores the balance to a disordered realm; to the Reformer, He is uniting Himself to the soul in its personal struggles, sins, and infirmities, and establishing a gracious exchange between Himself and the soul which, in His mercy and condescension, He loves.
Now, the lesson to be drawn from such a review is this : try to confine this truth within the limits of expressions appropriate to either of the forms of experience in question, and the dogmatic statement is necessarily inadequate. The reality is too vast, and its expansiveness would burst any form of words in which you tried to embody it. Each of these views is a real aspect of the truth; you cannot afford to sacrifice any of them, and for the purpose of your spiritual apprehension of the mystery you must combine them all. What you need for the official security of Christian teaching is some broad general statement, such as is contained in our Article, that our Lord “truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile His Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.” That is needed as a sort of fence around the truth, to quote an old Rabbinical phrase; but the truth itself is infinite in its meaning, and can only be fathomed by the deepest spiritual experience. No man who wants to realize it can afford to forego either the thought of the early Church, or the conceptions of Anselm, or the vivid apprehensions of Luther. When you have said, as a historian of dogma often does, “This is a conception of the Greek mind,” “This is a reflection of mediaeval experience,” “This is due to the experience of a monk in his spiritual agonies,” do not let it be supposed that by classifying these apprehensions of the doctrine you have done with them. If you want to know what the truth really means, you will take them all; you will try to enter into them all; you will submit yourself in homage to the struggles and experiences of the great saints of the past, and will try, in prayer as well as in thought, to enter into their spiritual life.
If these considerations are just, do they not make Dogmatic Theology the most permanently interesting, the most profoundly human, of all studies, that of the Scriptures alone excepted? After all, it is but a part of Scriptural study; for it is by these spiritual experiences of human nature alone that the Scriptures can be adequately interpreted. Does it not appear that both of the extreme tendencies which were mentioned at the outset are equally to be avoided – that which disparages dogmatic statements because, as is alleged, they are only the products of the human spirit working upon the foundation of the Scriptural revelation, and that which would provide us with a single clear and definite statement of “the length and breadth and depth and height” of Christian truth and Christian life? If there is one thing to be guarded against in dealing with Dogmatic Theology it is system. It is the systematizers, whoever they may be and however great they may be – even a St. Thomas or a Calvin – who create in the end, though much against their purpose and wish, the chief difficulties on this great subject. The true method is that which was followed alike by the Lutheran Church and by our own – the method which lays down certain great principles or articles, aphorisms of truth, which have been acquired by the human spirit in its long spiritual struggles, but leaves vast openings between them, which it does not attempt to fill in, because human experience has not yet adequately travelled over those spiritual spaces, and is in no position to lay down their exact bearings. The Articles of the Church of England are to dogmatic truth what Bacon’s Aphorisms, in the Novum Organum, are to his grand Instauratio Magna – central truths, by which the soul may be guarded from wandering into false paths, but within which it has an unlimited freedom. Happily, they refuse to be forced into a system. They lay down great theological principles, which mark out the lines within which our thoughts must move, seeking further treasures of doctrinal truth in the infinite depths of the Scriptures, and in the profoundly moving records of the experience of the saints.
The present volume, by a distinguished divine who has passed away, was published in two parts, in 1882 and 1892, and is now reprinted in a more convenient form, at the instance of persons who have found by experience that it is peculiarly valuable as an Introduction to the study of Dogmatic Theology. It surveys more comprehensively than any English book on the subject the general course of theology in early, mediaeval, and modern times, and illustrates the principles of the various systems, whether Catholic or Protestant, which have from time to time prevailed. The author’s sympathies are with the Protestant Theology which is embodied in the Thirty-nine Articles. But he states fairly the Roman and other systems, and gives a view of the course of recent controversy. The book will afford a student a good general conception of the problems of theology, and will give him very valuable guidance in appreciating the issues at stake. It ought, moreover, to be of especial value at a time when the conflict between Roman and Protestant principles is again acute. It will enable them both to be better understood by English students, and ought thus to conduce to a clear and intelligent decision between them.
Author’s Preface to First Edition
It has been subject of remark by one of our Bishops [Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, Charge, 1867.] that there exists no work from an English pen on Dogmatic Theology which could be recommended to candidates for Holy Orders as an introduction to that study. The criticism is just. Our theology, copious and valuable on isolated topics, is singularly deficient in works corresponding to those of the great foreign theologians, Romish and Protestant, in which a systematic survey of the whole field is taken. Hence such treatises as those of Martensen and Van Oosterzee have been largely read by our students, and no doubt with profit. But independently of some graver defects, a translation seldom succeeds in fully conveying the sense of the original; and the original itself is commonly too racy of the soil whence it sprang to fall in readily with English habits of thought and expression. There seems room therefore for, at least, an attempt in this direction, and without professing to be a Manual for Candidates, for which perhaps it is hardly fitted, the following volume aims at being primarily a Compendium of Dogmatic Theology on the subjects treated of, and indirectly a doctrinal commentary on such of the Thirty-nine Articles as belong thereto; not, however, as is usual, on each Article separately, but on the Articles as grouped under the heads to which they may be referred; which, since several of them really present but different sides of the same subject, is the first step towards a clear view of the system on which they are founded.
A few words may be in place on the position which the writer occupies. It has been matter of debate whether or not the Anglican Church is a Protestant Church, and whether or not she possesses a theology of her own, neither that of Rome nor yet of Geneva, but occupying a midway position between the two. With all such questions the writer has no concern. Whatever may be the character of the Anglican Church as a whole, the Thirty-nine Articles, at any rate, admit of no doubt as to their parentage; at least as regards those points on which they differ from the Church of Rome. For, as is well known, they consist of two quite distinct portions, one of which contains the doctrines common to us and the Romish Communion, the fundamental doctrines of the OEcumenical Creeds which both accept, while the other has reference to the points of controversy between us and that Communion. There can be no question that on these latter points the Anglican Church, if she is to be judged by the statements of the Articles, must be ranked amongst the Protestant Churches of Europe; and of the two families of foreign Confessions, under that of the Reformed rather than that of the Lutheran type. And such she is generally considered to be. Yet it may be alleged that the character of the Anglican Church is not to be determined from the Articles alone, but from her formularies as a whole, and there may be some ground for this assertion. But whether such is the case or not, a discussion of this delicate topic is foreign to the purpose of the present work. It makes no pretensions to frame, or to represent, a theology of the Church of England, as an insular production; a task very difficult in itself, and doubtful in its results. In respect of the leading points of controversy alluded to, its aim is simply, from a comparison of the public Confessions of the Reformed Churches, amongst which, as far as the Articles are concerned, our own is to be ranked, to expound the dogmatical system which goes by the general name of Protestant as distinguished from that of Rome.
Independently of the difficulties attending an attempt to establish a special Anglican theology on such points, the writer must avow his conviction that in a scientific point of view all such attempts will probably end in failure; and that there are only two systems of Dogmatic Theology, coherent in structure and capable of scientific exposition, the Romish and the Protestant; these words being understood not in the popular sense, but of the principles of the respective systems, as they are found stated in the public Confessions of Faith, and elaborated in the works of the principal theologians, on either side, since the Reformation; a Bellarmine and a Möhler on the one, a Chemnitz, a J. Gerhard, and a Quenstedt, on the other; worthy successors, all of them, of the great scholastic divines of the Middle Ages. The experiment, in fact, of such a Via Media theology was made many years ago in one of our universities under the most favourable auspices; but it produced no permanent result. The golden mean, in its actual application, was found to involve as many difficulties as either extreme. An example may be the subject of Scripture interpretation. The Romish doctrine of a living, infallible expositor in the person of the Pope is quite intelligible, has the merit of simplicity, and, if only the fact could be proved, removes many perplexities; the genuine Protestant doctrine, too, stands on its own ground, equally intelligible. The Via Media theology adopted neither the one nor the other, in its integrity. It admitted, in some sense, the right of private judgment, it denied the infallibility of the Pope; but its admission of the right of private judgment was accompanied with the proviso that the conclusions arrived at should always be in accordance with “the voice of Catholic antiquity”. How or where the voice of Catholic antiquity, ruling disputed points of interpretation, was to be ascertained, could never be satisfactorily made out. In fact, the prime architect of this theology has himself demolished his building. We are told, on his plenary authority, that “as a doctrine, it is wanting in simplicity, hard to master, indeterminate in its provisions, and without a substantive existence in any age or country.” [Cardinal Newman’s preface to his Prophetical Office of the Church, third edition, 1877.] Or as he has tersely expressed it in another work: “The Via Media was an impossible idea; it was what I had called standing on one leg; and it was necessary, if my old issue of the controversy was to be retained, to go further one way or the other.” [Apologia, p. 260.] A writer may be pardoned who accepts the judgment of so great a master, and ventures to think that nothing in Dogmatic Theology that will satisfy the demands of consecutive thinkers is likely to be produced except on the lines either of genuine Romanism or of genuine Protestantism.
This does not imply but that within the main lines on either side subordinate differences have not always existed, and may always be expected to exist. The symbols of the Lutheran and the Swiss Churches are easily distinguishable, and the Sacramentarian controversy threatened at one time to produce a rupture between them; and even in the Romish Church, a considerable latitude of private opinion is very properly, allowed. But these internal differences do not affect the essential principles of the respective systems; and in expounding, for example, the theology of Protestantism, it is unnecessary to draw a distinction between the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches: they both agree in certain fundamental points as against Rome, and refuse to be combined with the system of the latter into a tertium quid.
The writer has aimed at compression throughout, and therefore historical details and subordinate points of discussion have been, as much as possible, avoided, or briefly referred to in notes. In some parts he may seem to have transgressed this rule by a rather copious citation of passages from Confessions of Faith and theologians. On such abstruse subjects as, e.g., the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, Original Sin, and the like, the writer was not indisposed to shelter himself under the authority of great names. Moreover, where doctrines are ascribed to a system, or an author, it seems only fair to quote the ipsissima verba in which they are expressed. He also indulged the hope that some readers may be induced to explore for themselves the treasures of thought which lie buried in the ponderous tomes of what may be called the scholastic age of Protestantism, that is, the two centuries succeeding the Reformation. No better corrective of the loose habits of thought prevalent in our day exists than a perusal of writers who for learning, depth, and, above all, precision of language, have few equals.
The writer only wishes further to observe that it has been his aim to introduce to the notice of English divines that branch of theology which in Germany has received the name of ‘Symbolik,’ and of which Möhler’s work is probably the specimen best known to us; that is, a scientific comparison of the dogmatical systems of the two great divisions of western Christendom, exhibiting their fundamental doctrinal differences, rather than the popular aspect which they severally present to the world. In the Elizabethan age, and for some time subsequently, this branch of study, though not systematically cultivated, generally formed part of the theological equipment of our divines; as may be seen in the works of Jewell and his contemporaries, in the smaller treatises of Hooker, and, later on, in those of Bishop Hall, Field, and Davenant. Circumstances, to which it is unnecessary here to refer, brought about a neglect of it; our Universities ceased to contain or send forth champions of genuine Protestantism; with the result that, when the Oxford movement began many years ago, it bore in the eyes of the clergy and many distinguished laymen the aspect of a new discovery; instead of being (as it was) Romanism under a new guise, that is, Romanism shorn of some of its most prominent peculiarities, such as the formal coordination of tradition with Scripture as the rule of faith, the addition of five sacraments to the two appointed by Christ, the abuses of Purgatory, the supremacy of the Pope, and the like.
Romanism (including its mutilated counterpart, Anglo-Catholicism) is a religion of the incarnation, the virtue of which is communicated by sacraments; Protestantism is a religion of the atonement, the virtue of which is appropriated by direct faith in Christ, His word and His work, not, however, to the exclusion of sacraments in their proper place. Broadly, this is the difference. On neither side are these cardinal facts of revelation, or their connection, denied; there could have been no atonement if there had not been an incarnation; but the stress laid on the one or the other, and particularly differences of view as regards the instrument of appropriation, may affect our whole conception of Christianity and lead to widely divergent theological systems. To explain this, and to make it clear that some modern theories on, among other points, justification, the nature of justifying faith, and the sacraments, are nothing but a revival of the scholastic theology, on which Romanism itself is founded, is the general design of the work.
With the exception of the topics, the rule of faith and man before and after the fall, the earlier part of the work deals but little with modern controversies; controversies, that is, which have arisen since the Council of Trent. Happily, the principal divisions of Western Christendom all accept the three creeds, and the decisions of the early Councils on the Holy Trinity and the Person of Christ. With the latter part the case is different. Eschatology, perhaps, excluded, the matter is distinctly controversial, and on points which, to the present day, are warmly debated. The plan of the author rendered this necessary; but he trusts that no expressions, or insinuations, have fallen from him inconsistent with the temper which ought to govern theological controversy.
Introduction to Dogmatic Theology
§ 1. The Province of Dogmatic Theology
The word ‘dogma’ occurs in the New Testament in the sense of injunctions or ordinances to which obedience was required, such as the decree of Caesar (Luke 2:1, comp. Acts 17:7), the decisions of the Apostolic Council at Jerusalem (Acts 16:4, 17), and the precepts of the Mosaic law (Ephes. 2:15, Col. 2:14); and not in the sense of doctrines proposed to faith. In the writings of the early Fathers, the word signifies the fundamental truths of Revelation, such as they were delivered by the Apostles in their oral teaching and their writings, and before they became acted upon by the speculative intellect of the Church. Philosophy assigned to each science its peculiar dogmata, or first principles ; and those of Christianity were its historical facts with their inspired explanations. But since religion leaves no faculty of man unaffected by its influence, and appeals to the intellectual as well as the emotional part of his nature (as indeed faith, the most comprehensive of its synonyms, always presupposes something to be believed), it was inevitable that in process of time attempts should be made to systematize and arrange the materials furnished partly by Scripture, and partly by the implicit faith of the Church ; and this necessarily in the current language, and under the influence of the philosophy of the age. And this scientific action was materially promoted by the appearance of successive heresies. Each, as it grew to a head, called forth in opposition all the resources of argument, from whatever quarter, which the Church could summon to her aid; and no Christian truth emerged from the conflict the same in its mode of expression, and in its established connection with other truths, as it descended into the arena. A legitimate development, not of new truths from the old, but of the mode of exposition of the old, was coeval with Christianity and is inseparable from the idea of a living body like the Church; it finds a place in Scripture itself, in which the progression of Christian doctrine, from its first elements to its more perfect exhibition, is evident, though, from the form in which by Divine wisdom the New Testament was cast, and the special function which Scripture discharges in the Church, a systematic arrangement of doctrines, and especially as distinguished from Christian practice, is not to be looked for in it. This reflex action of the intellect on the faith of the Church is the source of dogmatic theology, and furnishes its true idea. Hence may be obviated sundry misconceptions of its nature. It is not, for example, a mere stringing together of texts or passages of Scripture under certain heads; which may be a preliminary to the formation of Biblical, but is not in itself dogmatic, theology. Of course a Christian dogmatic theology must, of necessity, be a Biblical one; so far, that is, as it ever appeals to Scripture as its ultimate authority; but formally the two are not identical. The Church, in its true idea, being the Communion of Saints, the temple of the Holy Ghost (Ephes. 2:21, 22), possesses a relative independence as regards spiritual illumination: the voice of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is one thing, and the work of the same Spirit in the Church is another, though the two are inseparably connected; and hence the Church may, for the time being, and for a special purpose, dissociate reflection upon her own faith from the authentication of it by Scripture: and in so doing, she lays the foundation of that branch of theology to which the name of ‘dogmatic’ is properly to be assigned. Nor is it, as sometimes seems to be supposed, merely a system of logical analysis and deduction, like the scholastic theology, with no basis in the living Christian sentiment, the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, in the Church. Severed from this latter, it no doubt merits the strictures that have been leveled against dogmatic theology in the mass, but which apply only to a limited and inaccurate conception of it. [Such, e.g., as that of the late Bishop Hampden, who, in his otherwise instructive ‘Bampton Lectures,’ appears to identify dogmatic theology with the subtleties of scholasticism.] Still less may it assume the position of an arbiter of the faith, dictating its ‘sentences’ to the submissive reception of the Christian body; to which assumption the word ‘dogmatism’ probably owes the sinister meaning commonly attached to it. No order or class, in the Church, whether ecclesiastical or scholastic, is empowered thus to rule the Christian conscience; and dogmatic theology loses its value if it is not a living reproduction of what is already held, in solution as it were, by the Christian community at large to which the writer belongs.
From these observations it will be seen that the dogmatic theologian occupies an essentially different position from that of a philosophic inquirer into the claims of Christianity. He is presumed to be neither outside nor above the Church, but in it; a partaker of its life, an expositor of what he himself believes and has experienced. To this branch of theology the maxim emphatically applies, Pectus theologum facit. A dogmatic theology free from all prejudication, the author of which is supposed to come to his subject with his mind a tabula rasa, [Strauss’s notion of it – “Christliche Glaubenslehre,” Schenkel, Dog. i, § 2.] is a misnomer; and not less so is one which affects to be an exposition of individual opinion rather than of the common faith of the Church. Nor does he take up the position of an apologist. Dogmatic theology presupposes the Divine origin of Christianity to be admitted, and occupies a midway position between the study of evidences and the homiletic functions of the Christian minister.
But here questions arise which seem to present difficulty. What are we to understand by the Church of which the dogmatic theologian is supposed to be a member? And where is its accredited profession of faith to be found? Before the schism of East and West the reply was easy; the faith of the Church – not the fides qua, but quae creditur – expressed itself, on certain fundamental points at least, in the Ecumenical creeds, or the two earliest of them. Heresies, on these points, had come and gone, proving themselves to be such, not by the Vincentian rule, Quod semper, etc. – an unsatisfactory one at best, for of what value was it (to take one example), at a period when, as one of the Fathers complains, the whole world almost had become Arian? – but by their very want of vitality and permanence, as the branch from which the sap has been diverted of itself withers and drops off. On this basis of the creeds the work of J. Damascenus (A.D. 730) contained a valuable, though limited, survey of Christian doctrine; but it was the first, and the last, of the kind which could lay claim strictly to the title of Catholic. After its separation from the East, the Western Church busied itself with questions in which the Greek Church, even if no rupture had taken place, would have felt little interest; and the West itself, at the Reformation, became split up into separate Churches, bound together by no tie, except the acceptance of the three creeds, and each with a Confession of Faith of its own, more or less polemical in character. The result is that a Catholic dogmatic theology, except as regards the fundamental doctrines of the creeds, is now only an idea, incapable of being realized; for a writer on the subject must belong to one or the other of the sections which divide Western Christendom, and must, if he is to produce anything of value, be an exponent of the theology of his own particular communion: he must identify himself with its teaching and traditional sentiment. And thus, in the present day, any such system must be more or less of a partial character; it is the dogmatic theology of the Romish, or of the Lutheran, or of the Reformed, or (as some would say) of the Anglican, Church. If we consent, as we well may, to merge minor differences, at any rate the Romish and the Protestant systems stand out in strong contrast; and it may be affirmed that no Romanist could fairly expound a system of Protestant doctrine, and probably the converse equally holds good. The other question is, Where is the traditional theology of each particular Church to be found? Not primarily in the works of its theologians, still less in the varying teaching of schools or parties, which may from time to time make their appearance, and then pass away. The authorized public Confessions of Faith are the proper standards to appeal to; it is they that impart a definite character and historical continuity to each Church. As long as these Confessions are not repudiated, or altered, by the body in its corporate capacity, they must be taken to decide the position which, in the controversies which agitate Christendom, that Church occupies. And on this ground, if the Thirty-nine Articles are to be considered as the distinctive, as they certainly are the principal, dogmatical formulary of the Anglican Church, there can be no doubt as to her position. The chief theologians, however, of each Church, if not primary, may be very important secondary sources of information; and the more so in proportion as they lived nearer to the time when the Church first assumed its distinctive features. Hence the earlier are, in this point of view, more valuable than the later. Some of the works of such writers have enjoyed an almost symbolical authority in their respective Churches; as, e.g., those of Jewell and Hooker in our own, those of Melanchthon in the Lutheran, and those of Calvin in the Swiss Protestant Churches. Where the meaning of the Confessions may be obscure or ambiguous, the comments of those who either assisted at the drawing-up of such Confessions, or have been held most accurately to represent their spirit, are justly deemed of the greatest assistance towards arriving at a conclusion. But no name, however venerable, and no school of opinion, however for the time prevalent, can be of much use in this point of view, if, instead of building on the foundations already laid, it aims at raising a new structure not in harmony therewith: such attempts to alter the essential character of a Church can only be of detriment to it; they must impede its natural growth, and therefore efficiency, and may issue in its dissolution.
§ 2. Literature of the Subject
The Patristic remains of the first centuries contain many valuable dogmatical treatises, that is treatises on special topics, but hardly any the aim of which is to exhibit the faith of the Church in a connected system, the proper province of dogmatic theology. Some attempts, however, in this direction were made, as, e.g., by Clemens Alexandrinus, and especially by Origen in his work Περι αρχων; but they were defective in many respects, and moreover seem to have led to nothing beyond themselves. John of Damascus, to whom allusion has been already made, may be considered the founder of this branch of theology. His work “De Fide Orthodoxa” is a summary of the decisions of councils, and of the statements of the principal Greek Fathers, especially Gregory Nazianzen, on the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation; and deservedly obtained a high reputation not only in the Eastern Church, but in the Western also, as soon as it became known through the medium of translations. And with it the literary activity of the Eastern Church on this subject seems to have come to a close. The main defect of the work is its almost total silence on Anthropological questions, or those relating to human agency in the work of salvation; nor does it treat of the Church, its idea, functions, and ministry. To supply these deficiencies was the appointed work of the Western Church. But though in the controversial treatises of Tertullian, Ambrose, and above all Augustine, with whom must be joined the Augustine of the middle ages, Anselm, the father of the scholastic theology, the materials were furnished in rich abundance, they were not collected and arranged until the great theologians of the properly scholastic period undertook the task, and performed it in a manner which must extort the admiration of even those to whom the general features of scholasticism are repulsive. What a marvelous monument of industry and acuteness is the “Summa Theologiae” of Thomas Aquinas, the angelic doctor! And the same may be said of the works of his fellow labourers in this field. But its slavish submission to ecclesiastical authority on the one hand, and its unwarranted employment of Aristotle’s philosophy on the other, rendered the scholastic theology but a meager expression of the Christian faith; and at the first breath of the religious impulse of the Reformation it tottered to its fall. The material principle of Protestantism, justification by faith only – or, in other words, the doctrine that the Christian believer enjoys direct access to God through Christ, without the intervention of the Church – and its formal principle the supreme authority of Holy Scripture, were alike foreign to the spirit of this theology, which accordingly found no congenial home in the Reformed Churches. Yet it had too deeply struck its roots wholly to disappear. The first Reformers, while protesting against its Pelagian tendencies, made use of its terms and received arguments – they could not do otherwise if they were to be understood; and to this day we employ its language without perhaps suspecting whence it is derived. No writer is appealed to with greater deference by the Protestant theologians of the seventeenth century than Thomas Aquinas. But though the scholastic theology continued to furnish the shell of theological discussion, it lost its power as a living system.
It was the Reformation that gave birth to what we now mean by the term “dogmatic theology”. The public confessions on either side – such as that of Augsburg, with its Apology, on the one, and the decrees of the Council of Trent, with its Catechism, on the other – are in reality compendiums of this science, of no mean literary merit, a praise especially due to the Romish Catechism. At an early period of the movement Melanchthon’s “Loci Communes” (A.D. 1521) appeared, a work pronounced by Luther to be worthy of admission into the Canon; it was much enlarged, and in some points of doctrine modified, in subsequent editions. The most distinguished commentator on it, and indeed the chief Lutheran theologian of that century, was Martin Chemnitz, whose “Loci” and especially his “Examen Concilii Tridentini” are classical works. The school of Melanchthon occupied a middle position between the fully developed Lutheranism of the “Formula Concordix,” drawn up A.D. 1579, and the doctrine of the Swiss Calvinistic Churches. For these latter Calvin performed the same service which Melanchthon had done for the Lutheran; and in his “Institutions” produced a work which for lucidity and philosophical depth surpassed all similar attempts of that age, and exercised a vast influence throughout the Reformed Churches of Europe, our own not excepted. It has not been superseded by any subsequent work on the same basis, viz., the doctrine of absolute predestination.
The seventeenth century was the scholastic age of Protestant theology, and witnessed its most important productions. Such works as the “Loci” of J. Gerhard (best edition that of Cotta, 1762–81, in twenty quarto vols.), and the “Theologia Didactica-Polemica” of A. J. Quensledt (died 1688), remind us of the labours of Albert Magnus and Aquinas; but they are in a great measure free from the defects which have consigned their predecessors to the shelf. Equally exhaustive in their treatment, they are far more Scriptural, and less prone to indulge in idle subtleties. With these lights of the Lutheran Church are to be associated the names of Baier, Buddeus, and Hollaz (the two latter of the next century); while the Reformed Church may boast of such writers as Beza, Gilbert Voetius, and F. Turretin. It is from the writers of this period that the student will derive the most solid instruction.
The Romish Church has never been so productive as the Protestant in this branch of theology. Two great theologians, however, she possesses – Bellarmine and Bossuet: the former a controversialist, armed at all points, and though not always fair in his statement of the opinions he opposes, eminent for learning and acuteness; the latter of classic rank in the literature of his country. [See especially his “Histoire des Variations,” etc.]
The history of dogmatic theology in recent times is its history in Germany; for in England, with the exception of some isolated treatises, little attention has been paid to the subject. After the dreary reign of rationalism, of which the works of Wegscheider and Bretschneider, at the beginning of this century, may be taken as the culminating point, there has been an auspicious revival of the old orthodox theology, under a form more suited to modern taste: among others of less note, Nitzsch, Twesten, Thomasius, Philippi, and Martensen, deserve honourable mention as having contributed to the change. None of these would dissemble their obligations to the celebrated Schleiermacher, who, though he can hardly find a place in the ranks of orthodoxy, yet, by recalling attention to the fact that the true basis of dogmatic theology is to be sought in the inner life of the Church, communicated an impulse in the right direction, which has been widespread and lasting. But for the history of recent German theology the reader is referred to works which expressly handle that subject. [As, for example, Farrar’s “Bampton Lectures”.]
It remains briefly to notice the arrangements that have been adopted by different writers. The ordinary one, for a long time, was that of “Loci,” or heads: thus J. Gerhard’s great work treats, in order, of Scripture, Person and Work of Christ, Creation, Freewill, Justification, Sacraments, Church, Christian Ministry, Civil Magistrate, Wedlock, Death, Resurrection and Judgment, and a Future State. The want of a central governing principle in this method produced attempts at a more scientific one, and the “Loci” gave place to systems such as that of Calvin, who treats, first, of God the Creator; secondly, of Christ the Redeemer; thirdly, of the Holy Ghost; and lastly, of the Church – an arrangement evidently founded on the Apostles’ Creed: or that of Quenstedt – 1. The end of Theology (God); 2. Its subject (man); 3. The sources of salvation (Christ); 4. The means of salvation (Church, etc.). The trichotomy of the Apostles’ Creed, the doctrine concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, has been recently revived as a foundation by Marheineke and Martensen; it is however open to objection, as more suited to the dogmatic theology of the Greek than to that of the Protestant Church. The method of “Loci,” on the whole, offers as many advantages as any other; and in the present work, at any rate, which is intended to be indirectly a commentary on the Thirty-nine Articles, seems the appropriate one. The topics, however, may be disposed in a natural order. The first thing, obviously, is to settle what is the supreme authority in matters of faith, or the Rule of Faith; Christian Theism, including the Holy Trinity, naturally follows; then the State of Man unfallen and fallen, with a section on the Angels; and then the Person and Work of the Redeemer.
The Rule of Faith
“Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an Article of Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of Holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical books of the Old and New Testament of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church. ... And the other books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet it doth not apply them to establish any doctrine. ... All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive, and account them Canonical” (Art. vi.). “The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and the New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. ... The Law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, does not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought, of necessity, to be received in any commonwealth” (Art. vii.). “The three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warranty of Holy Scripture” (Art. viii.). “The Church hath power to decree rites and ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore although the Church is a witness and keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything as necessary to salvation” (Art. xx.). “When they (General Councils) be gathered together (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men whereof all be not governed by the Spirit and Word of God), they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them, as necessary to salvation, have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture” (Art. xxi.). “Credimus unicam regulam et normam, secundum quam omnia dogmata omnesque doctores aestimari et judicari oporteat, nullam omnino aliam esse quam Prophetica et Apostolica scripta quum Veteris tum Novi Testamenti. ... Hoc modo luculentum discrimen inter sacras Veteris et Novi Testamenti literas et omnia aliorum scripta retinetur, et sola scriptura S. judex, norma, et regula, cognoscitur, ad quam ceu ad Lydium lapidem omnia dogmata exigenda sunt et indicanda, an pia, an impia, an vero, an falsa, sint. Caetera autem symbola, et alia scripta, non obtinent auctoritatem judicis haecenim dignitas solis Sacris Literis debetur), sed duntaxat pro religione nostra testimonium dicunt, eamque explicant, ac ostendunt quomodo singulis ternporibus Sacrae Literae in articulis controversis in ecclesia Dei a doctoribus qui tum vixerunt intellecta et explicata fuerint” (Form. Concord., lib. symb. Eccl. Luth., edit. Francke). “Credimus scripturas canonicas utriusque Testamenti ipsum verum esse verbum Dei: et autoritatem sufficientem ex semet ipsis non ex hominibus habere. Et in hac scriptura S. habet universalis Christi Ecclesia plenissime exposita quaecunque pertinent cum ad salvificam fidem tum ad vitam Deo placentem recte informandam. Nihil dissimulamus quosdam Vet. Test. libros a veteribus nuncupatos esse Apocryphos, ab aliis Ecclesiasticos, utpote quos in ecclesiis legi voluerunt quidem, non tamen proferri ad auctoritatem ex his fidei confirmandam. Illam duntaxat Scripturae S. interpretationem pro orthodoxa et genuina agnoscimus quae ex ipsis est petita scripturis (ex ingenio utique ejus linguae, in qua sunt scriptae, secundum circumstantias item expensae, et pro ratione locorum vel similium, vel dissimilium plurium quoque et clariorum expositae) cum regula fidei et caritatis congruit” (Conf. Helv., lib. symb. Eccl. Ref., edit. Augusti). “Confitemur sanctos Dei viros divino afflatos spiritu locutos esse. Postea vero Deus ... servis suis mandavit ut sua ilia oracula scriptis consignarent” (Conf. Bel. iii., ibid.). “Profitemur nos amplecti sacras canonicas ... S. S. ... instinctu Spiritus S. primitus scriptas” (Dec. Thor. i., ibid.).
The subject of the Rule of Faith does not, in our Articles, occupy its proper place, which, as is evident, should be antecedent to the discussion of particular doctrines. As it forms a main point of controversy between the Romish and the Reformed Churches, the compilers were probably actuated by the laudable desire of exhibiting the common faith of Christians on the doctrines of the Holy Trinity, and the Person and Work of Christ, before noticing differences. But in a system of dogmatic theology, such an arrangement is out of place. If the symmetry of the system is to be preserved, and the subordinate doctrines to be properly estimated, the depository of the faith must be ascertained before its contents become matter of discussion. The doctrine of our Church, in common, as has been seen, with the foreign Protestant Churches on this point, is that Holy Scripture, by which is to be understood the Canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, is, as having been given by inspiration of God, the sole Rule of Faith (norma credendi), and the supreme judge of controversy; and further, that whatsoever is necessary to salvation may be plainly and sufficiently read therein, or proved thereby. This general statement branches out into several particulars.
§ 3. Canon of Scripture
By the word Canon (κανών) was meant, originally, not a catalogue of the inspired writings, but the fundamental doctrines of Christianity which were to be, a rule, or guide, in public teaching. These sometimes, as in the Apostles’ Creed, appear in short summaries, sometimes are referred to by writers (Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc.) as well known and acknowledged by the Churches. It is in this sense that S. Paul calls the measure of divine truth which the Philippian Church had attained to a Canon (Phil. 3:16). Since this Canon of truth, whether inward in the heart, or expressed in writing, derived all its validity from its presumed correspondence with the teaching of the Apostles, and since this latter, after their decease, could be found with certainty only in their writings, it became a matter of vital moment to ascertain, with all care and diligence, what were those writings, which, when collected together, might for ever form an authentic record of Apostolic doctrine. The result of this pious labour is the volume of our New Testament, all the books of which we receive as they are commonly acknowledged. As regards the Old Testament, we accept the judgment of its proper historical guardians, and consequently exclude some of the books which the Council of Trent (Sess. iv.) admits, but which the Jews did not acknowledge as on a level with the others. The whole, as forming the standard of faith and morals, came to be called the Canon, and the writings contained in it Canonical.
For the history of the formation of the Canon of the New Testament, or rather of the evidence to its existence from an early age (for the actual process of its formation is involved in obscurity), the reader is referred to works which treat expressly of the subject, such as Westcott “On the Canon,” and especially Kirchhofer’s excellent work. For our present purpose, a mere sketch will be sufficient. We observe, then, that from the first our present books are cited as Scripture, that is, as books sui generis, possessing an authority which belonged to no others; that they were publicly read in Christian assemblies as the Word of God; that catalogues were formed of them, of which thirteen, of a date previous to the fifth century, are extant, and which, though in some of them certain books are omitted, all agree in containing no other; and that the oldest version, the Peschito, contains these and no others. Commentaries were written on them, and they were appealed to by heretics and unbelievers (with few exceptions), as well as by orthodox writers, as authentic records of the Christian religion. Notwithstanding this general agreement as to what books were to be accounted Canonical, it is impossible to assign the particular time when the collection was made, or the persons who were engaged in it. No traces exist of this question having been formally discussed in any Council; that of Laodicea, A.D. 364, which has been improperly supposed to have fixed the Canon, merely giving a catalogue of the books already received. Unlike the books of the Old Testament, those of the New were addressed to Churches scattered over the known world: time, therefore, was needed, both for a circulation of the books and for a general recognition of their authority. When to this we add the difficulties of transcription and communication, and the political disadvantages under which for several centuries Christianity laboured, preventing the assembling of any Council to determine this and similar questions it cannot be matter of surprise that the Canon should only gradually have assumed its present form. One circumstance that must have retarded the work was the swarm of Apocryphal writings which appeared soon after the Apostolic age, and which commonly laid claim to Apostolic origin. To sift the evidence for these spurious compositions must have been a work of no small difficulty; and it speaks highly for the diligence and judgment of the early Church, that none of them appear in its catalogues, are quoted as Scripture by the Fathers of that age, or were read in the assemblies of Christians.
The books which Eusebius, a writer of great research and impartiality (A.D. 315) calls ομολογουμένοι, that is universally and without controversy admitted, are our present ones, with the exception of the Epistle to the Hebrews, that of S. James, that of S. Jude, the second of S. Peter, the second and third of S. John, and the Apocalypse: these, he says, were questioned by some, though received by the majority. [Eccl. Hist., lib. iii. 27.] They are just such as, from their nature or contents, we might expect to have been of tardier recognition. For either, like the Epistle to the Hebrews, those of S. James and S. Jude, and the Apocalypse, they do not expressly assert their Apostolic origin; or, like the second and third of S. John, they were addressed to individuals, which evidently would render it more difficult to prove their genuineness. Whatever may be the deficiency of evidence for these books, it must never be forgotten that it is comparative, and that those for which there is the least, rest on testimony incomparably stronger than can be adduced for any Apocryphal writing. Nor must it be forgotten that the very hesitation and reserve with which the disputed books were received adds weight to the judgment of the early Church, where it was unanimous. From the candidly expressed doubts of the first three centuries in regard to some books we derive the same benefit in estimating the claims of the rest as we do, on the fact of our Lord’s resurrection, from the incredulity of S. Thomas.
Nevertheless, these disputed books cannot be placed exactly on the same level with the rest. We admit them into the Canon as, on the whole, sufficiently attested, but we cannot now repair the disadvantage under which they labour, as having been not universally accepted by the ancient Church. The doubts which were then felt propagate themselves, unless fresh evidence should come to light, which is not likely. Comparatively, therefore, with the others they occupy, as regards the external testimony, an inferior position, and on this account have sometimes ‘received the name of Deutero-Canonical. [“Ubi desunt primae et veteris ecclesiae firmae, et consentientes testificationes, sequens ecclesia, sicut non potest ex falsis facere vera, ita nec ex dubiis potest certa facere” (Chemnitz, Exam. Con. Trid., lib. i., 22).]
The Canon of the New Testament being established, that of the Old to us Christians at once follows. For by our Lord and the Apostles our present books of it are quoted and classified, and no others. Amidst the censures that Christ directed against the Jews of that age, he never charged them with adding to or corrupting their Scriptures. By their traditions they frequently “made the Word of God of none effect,” but the Word itself they left intact. Tradition points to the return from the Babylonish captivity as the time when the task was undertaken of collecting the books, which, after the destruction of the temple, had become dispersed; and the same tradition makes Nehemiah and Ezra, especially the latter, principal agents in the prosecution of the task. To the collection thus formed, whether by Ezra or not, his own writings, together with those of Nehemiah and Malachi, that were written before Ezra’s death, were added, and the Canon of the Old Testament completed. It was, with the exception of a few insignificant sects, acknowledged by the Jews throughout the world. Though a number of Apocryphal writings, most of them of Alexandrian origin, appeared subsequently to the last of the prophets, and some became incorporated in the LXX translation, it does not appear that even in Egypt they ever obtained Canonical authority, and certainly not among the Jews of Palestine. It was, therefore, in disregard of the unanimous tradition of the appointed guardians of the Old Testament, as well as of the facts of history, that the Church of Rome pronounced, at the Council of Trent, that all the books contained in the Vulgate, Apocryphal or otherwise, should, under pain of an anathema, be accounted as sacred and Canonical. (Sess. iv., c. 1.)
We now proceed to the properly dogmatical aspect of the question. On what grounds, let us ask, do we receive a book as Canonical? The ultimate ground can be no other than our conviction that it is, or contains, the Word of God; in other words, that (to speak at present only of the New Testament) it is an authentic record, written under special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of the Christian revelation. This, however, only leads the way to the further question, How do we arrive at this conviction? And the reply of the Romish Church is that the authority of Scripture depends on the decision of the Church; or, in other words, that the Canonicity of a book is to be admitted because the Church affirms it. It is true that this is not openly avowed in the decisions of the Council of Trent, but it is virtually assumed. For when the Council anathematizes all who do not receive as sacred and Canonical, e.g., the books of Tobias, Judith, and Wisdom, and the two books of the Maccabees, which notoriously never had a place in the Jewish Canon (the original Hebrew), and were never unanimously accepted by the ancient Christian Church, but, on the contrary, were rejected by those Fathers who were acquainted with Hebrew, and who made the subject their special study, [E.g., Jerome, whose catalogue agrees with ours. The Apocryphal books found an entrance into the LXX version, and thence passed into the Old Latin translation; from which they were received into the Vulgate.] it is obvious that it claims the power of fixing the Canon by its own plenary authority. It is only an accident how far the power may be exercised. The Council stops short at certain books which, no doubt, have been esteemed in the Church; but the principle may be extended to any books, whatever their contents or the attestation they enjoy. For the principle is, that the existing Church of Rome is the final court of appeal to decide what books are to be esteemed Canonical and what not.
Against this principle the Reformed Churches protest. In the first place, whatever may be the functions of the Church in this matter, it is certainly not the existing Romish Church, nor the Romish Church of the sixteenth century, from which we receive the Canon, but from that early Church which makes no pretensions to be an independent, infallible authority, but exercises its functions only in connection with the facts of history. The Tridentine Fathers were in no better position to determine these questions than we are. But, in the next place, the Reformers denied that any Church, or even the Church Catholic, possesses the authority claimed. By them the office of the Church, in relation to Scripture, is defined to be “a keeper and a witness”; a keeper inasmuch as to its custody the sacred records are committed, to be jealously guarded from addition, mutilation, or deprivation; and a witness inasmuch as it is incumbent on the Church to hand down, from age to age, the chain of evidence which proves these books, and no others, to have been from the first acknowledged. So far, no doubt, it is the Church that first introduces her members to the knowledge of the Bible, and, moreover, accompanies this introduction with her own testimony to its supernatural origin and priceless value; but this is a very different thing from assuming a power to make a book Canonical by a simple authoritative decision. The Church, in this matter, discharges an office similar to that of the Samaritan woman in John 4 who invited her fellow townsmen to come and see a man who had told her all that ever she did: she was the means, or occasion, of their becoming acquainted with the Messiah, but she did not make Him what He was, nor could she produce saving faith in them: they believed, when they did believe, not because of her saying, but because they had heard Him themselves, and perceived that it was indeed the Christ. The Scripture is never fully received on its proper grounds until a similar personal experience is wrought in its readers.
It must not be dissembled that the witness of the Church to the Canonicity of a book comes to us with a great weight of authority (authority in the classical sense of the word auctoritas, viz., prevailing moral influence), though not with that claimed for it by the Council of Trent; but it is important to point out wherein this authority lies. The nearness of the primitive Church to Apostolic times, its knowledge of the original language, the sources of evidence then probably accessible which now no longer exist, and other like external advantages over us, are no doubt of great moment; but they by no means exhaust the question. If they did, then any body of historical testimony, say of heathen writers possessing the same advantages, would be of equal value. The witness of the Church is valuable because it is the witness of the Church; that is, of the body which possesses, by covenant promise, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the same Divine agent who inspired the books. The Church, therefore, of the Apostolic age had a spiritual tact and perception which, independently in a measure of the external testimony, enabled it to discriminate between the genuine writings of the Apostles, or Apostolic men, and spurious compositions. It was by its exercise that such a writing as the Epistle to the Hebrews, of which the human author, the auctor secundarius, is doubtful, gained admittance into the Canon, while others bearing the names of eminent Apostles were rejected. Neither species of evidence produced its full effect apart from the other: the historical led to the internal, and the internal confirmed the historical; a reciprocal action was constantly going on, the result of which was the final settlement of the Canon. This process of mutual confirmation belongs to the evidences themselves of Christianity, and is nothing but what occurs in the departments of art and literature. For example, a picture by Raphael commends itself at once to a cultivated taste; and a cultivated taste, without knowing the painter, assigns such a picture to the bloom, not to the decadence, of the art.
And this internal evidence, the testimonium S. Spiritus in Scripture, is ever repeating itself, and is as valid now as it was in the first century. For the presence of the Holy Ghost is not limited to any age of the Church; we, too, believe that we enjoy His gracious influences, and with them the power of discerning the voice of the Spirit in Scripture. A book written by an Apostle, in the exercise of his office, strikes a corresponding chord in the spiritual mind; and a spiritual mind, even if the name of the author be not certainly known, feels no hesitation in accepting the testimony of the early Church as to its Apostolic parentage. The external evidence, say the Protestant theologians, can only produce an historical faith (fides humana); the witness of the Holy Spirit in Scripture itself is the source of the fides divina, or spiritual persuasion; and on this, in the last resort, our conviction of its being the Word of God must be founded. So it is, in fact. The Holy Spirit in the Word, and the Holy Spirit in the heart, answer one to the other as sound and echo, or voice to voice. Christians have the mind of Christ, and therefore know, as none else can, the things of the Spirit, that is of Christ (John 16:14, 1 Cor. 2:14, 16); and the testimony thus furnished by Scripture itself is direct and conclusive, it being presupposed that the external testimony corroborates, or does not militate against it. Those who disparage this source of conviction may be asked how otherwise are the laity, who have neither time nor ability for learned researches, ever to arrive at a happy persuasion that the words they read are a message from God?
From the foregoing observations it will be seen how the inference, that because, in a certain sense, we rely upon the Church to declare what is Scripture we are therefore bound to receive implicitly all else that the Church teaches, is to be met. As against Rome the reply is sufficient that we do not, in fact, receive the Scriptures on the testimony of the Romish Church; but the question may arise in reference to the early Church, on whose testimony we do acknowledge that we rely in this matter. The answer, then, must be that the office, even of the early Church, is here only ministerial, not finally authoritative; it is but the outer tabernacle through which we pass to the Holy of Holies, not the very interior sanctuary itself. The Church presents us with the book, but this does not necessarily imply that she has succeeded in exhibiting in her faith or practical system a true reflection of its contents. The Jews scrupulously guarded and handed down their sacred books, but failed to read them so as to correct their prevalent errors of faith and practice; they handed down, in fact, their own condemnation. And so it is with the Christian Scriptures. The Church of every age that transmits them in their integrity, hands down, consciously or unconsciously, the antidote to its errors, if such there be; and must submit to be tested by this unerring standard. We are grateful for the care with which the sacred touchstone has been preserved and conveyed to us; but once in possession of it, we apply it without hesitation to test the Christianity even of the transmitters – even as our Christianity of the present day may undergo a similar ordeal at the hands of our successors, and by a similar application of the Divine standard which we religiously cherish. The Bible may not have spoken its last word to the early Church; and it may be equally true that it has by no means done so to modern Christendom. In short, the two questions are altogether distinct, Has the Church faithfully discharged her office of keeper and witness of Holy writ? and, Is her practical interpretation of it a correct one? We may thankfully reply to the former in the affirmative, while suspending our judgment as regards the latter. Nor would the early Church itself have demanded more at our hands. A Cyprian, a Chrysostom, or an Augustine, may not be safe guides on all points, but they would have been the first to say, Here is the inspired volume which we have received from our predecessors, and to which we, in our turn, bear testimony; let whatever we write be judged by it, and accepted or rejected accordingly.
That the doctrine of the witness of the Holy Spirit to His own Word may be misapplied is true. It is so when a professed discerning of the mind of the Spirit in a book is held of itself to warrant its admission into the Canon: or, to state the same thing from its converse side, if, because we fancy we do not discern the Holy Spirit in a book, we conclude that we are at liberty to reject it; as Luther rejected the Epistle of S. James because it did not come up to his conception of what a Canonical book should be. But the error lies, as is often the case, not in the principle itself, but in the misuse of it. A book which comes down to us, on probable testimony, as the work of an Apostle, written in the exercise of his office, or under his immediate superintendence, and on that ground assigned a place in the Canon by the early Church, cannot be set aside on the adverse judgment of any individual Christian. For if such a one should profess that he discerns in it no trace of inspiration, the answer must be, that no individual Christian possesses a monopoly of the Holy Spirit, and that it is more probable that he should be mistaken than that the whole Church should have gone wrong. It would be a serious thing indeed were the whole Church to come round to his opinion; but this is exactly what has never happened in the case of any Canonical book. We must believe, then, that it was Luther’s own fault if he failed to find spiritual nutriment in the Epistle of S. James, rather than that the epistle itself is deficient in internal evidence. We must not put asunder what God has joined together, or invert the order which Divine Providence has established in this matter. The Epistle of S. James, or the Apocalypse, reaches our hands as part of the Canon, admitted into it by that age which had the best means of deciding on its pretensions, and accepted by all Christian Churches. It comes therefore with a prima facie weight of evidence in its favour – evidence, as we must believe, partly founded, as regards those who admitted the book, on the very same internal witness of the Holy Spirit which we profess to rely upon. From this its position it cannot be deposed except by a verdict of the Church universal; and this cannot now be expected, partly on account of the divisions that prevail in Christendom, and partly because the historical evidence on which the early Church decided is, in a great measure, no longer extant: a plain intimation of Providence, that we are not to make our private – or in modern phrase “subjective” – notions the sole ground of our acceptance or rejection of a book. And thus, though the external attestation and the internal testimony are not the same, and the one is not complete without the other, we are warranted in believing that no one who, taking into his hands a book which has been received as Canonical by the whole Church, proceeds in a humble and devout spirit to study its contents, will eventually fail to perceive therein the witness of the Holy Spirit.
It must be admitted that in some instances it is the external testimony on which we have chiefly to rely. It might, e.g., be difficult to maintain that the Books of Joshua and Ruth, though we place them in the Canon, reflect their own light, or convey a conviction of their origin, so forcibly as the Gospel of S. John, or the Epistles of S. Paul; and the same may be said of some books even of the New Testament as compared with others. The testimony of the Holy Spirit is in these more latent, does not appeal so directly to the spiritual instinct, and therefore we are compelled to make up for the deficiency by leaning more upon the historical attestation.
It is to be noted, finally, that there is reason to believe that the office of inspired men was not merely to write themselves as the Holy Spirit prompted, but to authenticate the writings of their predecessors; a circumstance which may be thought to be hinted at in the well-known passage of Josephus (Cont. Apion, i. s. 8): “From the time of Artaxerxes to the present day, books of various kinds have appeared, but they are not esteemed of equal authority with the more ancient, because since that time the legitimate succession of prophets has failed.” As long as this succession continued, inquirers had an infallible authority to appeal to on the question whether a book was to be deemed Canonical or not. Every reader of the Old Testament will have observed how often passages from the earlier prophets are quoted by the later ones, and thus receive an inspired attestation. In like manner S. Peter authenticates S. Paul’s epistles; and it was doubtless ordered by Divine Providence that S. John should survive to see the Canon of the New Testament virtually completed, and to give it his imprimatur.
§ 4. Inspiration of Scripture
In the preceding section the questions have been: What books constitute the volume of Holy Scripture? and What has been, and is, the office of the Church in the fixing of the Canon? The question now before us is, On what ground do we assign to the books thus ascertained as supreme authority in matters of faith and practice? To the Christian, the books received in the first instance on the tradition of the Church commend themselves by the light which they impart, as the sun is seen by his own beams; but a further question remains: What is the measure of the intensity of the light? The witness of the Holy Spirit in the volume seals the witness of the Church; but to what extent was the Holy Spirit an agent in its composition? this is the point which now demands consideration. And the answer is: The supreme authority of Holy Scripture rests on the presumption that its authors when they wrote did so under a special influence of the Holy Spirit, differing not merely in degree, but in kind from His ordinary influences; to which special influence the Church has given the name of Inspiration.
The plenary [This descriptive epithet is on many grounds to be preferred to “verbal.”] inspiration of Scripture is rather assumed than anywhere directly affirmed in our formularies; probably because at the time no controversy on the point had arisen, at least between the great contending divisions of Christendom. If there ever was a general consent of the Church Catholic on any question, it exists on this. East and West, from the earliest to the latest times, concurred in assigning to Scripture a preeminence which consisted in its being – as no other collection of writings is – the Word of God. The foreign Protestant Confessions (more explicit than our own on this point), take up the sacred tradition; and the Church of Rome is in substantial agreement with them. That Church, as we think, has on insufficient grounds added to the number of Canonical books; she has, in our opinion, improperly made tradition a coordinate authority with Scripture; but the books which she does receive she with us assigns to the special inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is, next to our common acceptance of the doctrines contained in the three creeds, one of the links that connect us with that Church, and makes a reconciliation at any rate within the range of possibility. From this it will be seen that it is the province of dogmatic theology not so much to prove the inspiration of Holy Scripture – for no Christian Church, as a Church, least of all our own, doubts the fact – as to define and explain what is meant by it, and to attempt to meet objections which may be urged against the received doctrine on the subject.
And, first, let the meaning of the term “inspiration,” as applied to Scripture, be fixed; fixed for the purposes of this discussion. The etymology conveys simply the notion of “in-breathing,” or the communication of Divine influence; for what special purpose is determined by the nature of the result. Thus Bezaleel is said to have been inspired for the work of the tabernacle (Exod. 31:3); Moses was inspired to give the law, David to compose Psalms, the Prophets to admonish and to predict, the Apostles to preach and lay the foundations of the Church. In one of our Collects we ourselves pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The expression therefore “inspiration of Scripture” admits of a variety of meaning: it may, e.g., be understood as simply affirming that a peculiar religious geniality pervades a book: or, in a more definite sense, that the authors of certain books did indeed enjoy the privilege of a special Divine assistance as men, but not particularly so as writers; and that this is enough to account for the position of preeminence which the Church assigns to Holy Scripture.
What was the nature and extent of the Divine influence which prompted, or superintended, those of the Apostles who did write, in the particular act of writing? Was it something, if not beyond yet distinct from their general endowment of inspiration; or was their writing such and such books merely the natural efflorescence of the latter? As we may say, Milton was a great genius, and, therefore, naturally threw off the “Paradise Lost”. Was there, in short, a commission to write as well as to teach? The hinge of the controversy really turns on the answer to these questions.
No little difficulty has been introduced into the subject by the indiscriminate use of the words “revelation” and “inspiration”.
It is obvious that the mode of the operation of the Holy Spirit on the mind of a writer is a matter quite beyond our ken; the result is all that is cognizable by or concerns us. The result, then, in the case of the inspired writings, is such a combination of Divine with human agency as renders them at once Divine and human.
The older theory of plenary inspiration which makes the sacred writers to have been merely amanuenses, or passive organs, of the Holy Spirit – the theory which in modern times has received the name of mechanical – has not been able to maintain its ground. The writings of the several authors are strongly marked by the peculiar colouring which the abilities, education, or natural temperament of each were calculated to impart. An epistle of S. Paul could never be mistaken for one of S. John, and S. Peter, in his manner, resembles neither of those Apostles. Each has his own peculiar – shall we say favourite? – topics, and expresses himself in his own way. The compositions themselves seem to have been the offspring of circumstances, and do not exhibit, on the part of their human authors, any preconceived plan. We must suppose, then, that the sacred writers, when under the influence of inspiration, were under no constraint in the exercise of their faculties, but wrote as men to men; that the result, therefore, as it is the Word of God, is also, in a very real sense, the word of man. The Person of the Redeemer presents an analogy. He was truly God and truly man: his manhood was no docetic phantasm, but a reality (1 John 1:1): but the mode of union is a problem which Christian speculation can hardly be said yet to have solved.
As an inference from Canonicity and Inspiration, the Protestant theologians are accustomed to predicate of Holy Scripture certain qualities, or attributes, which bear upon its fitness for the position which they assign to it in the Church; such as truth, holiness, sufficiency, perspicuity, etc. Of these properties, perspicuity and sufficiency are of dogmatical import, and constitute points of controversy between the Protestant and the Romish Churches. With the former the subject of the present section, the Interpretation of Scripture, is intimately connected; the latter will come before us in the following section.
In fact, a principal argument with writers of the Romish Communion against the fitness of Scripture to be the Rule of Faith is derived from its alleged obscurity; of which they produce as evidence the variety of interpretations of which it seems capable; both the Church and heretics appealing to it in support of their views, and in orthodox Christianity different sects, and even Churches, drawing different conclusions from the same book. As to individuals, can two Christians be found in absolute agreement as to the meaning of Scripture? “It is plain” (says Bellarmine) “that Scripture is not judex controversiarum, because it admits of various senses; nor can Scripture itself declare which is the true one. Besides, in every well-ordered state, the law and the judge are distinct. The law prescribes what is to be done, and the judge interprets the law, and decides accordingly. The question is about the interpretation of Scripture; but it cannot interpret itself.” And after him Möhler: “It is one thing to say that Holy Scripture is the source of doctrine, and another that it is the judge in the determination of what is doctrine. It can no more be the latter than a code of laws is identical with the bench of judges; judgment is given according to the code, but the code does not judge itself.” In other words, Scripture needs a standing hermeneutical tribunal, invested with authority to declare its meaning as particular cases arise, without which it would be of little value. Such a tribunal is actually supplied in and through the Church; whether by that term we are to understand the collective Episcopate, or general Councils, or the Pope, or the Pope and a Council combined. As might be supposed, the Protestant Confessions speak otherwise, for how can Scripture be the Rule of Faith if its meaning is not apparent, at least on all essential points? The following statement of a Polish Confession expresses the sentiment of all the Protestant Churches: “In which Scriptures there is so much of what is plain and perspicuous that in them everything may be found that relates to faith and morals, or is necessary to salvation.” Accordingly, our own formulary declares that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation ; so that whatsoever is not read therein, or may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an Article of Faith” (Art. vi.). It is true that who is to read Scripture and prove thereby is not here specified; this is left to the common sense of those who accept the Article, [“Not a word is said” (in Articles vi., xx.) “in favour of Scripture having no rule or method to fix interpretation by; nor of the private judgment of the individual being the ultimate standard of interpretation” (Tract 90, v. 1). True, but why should such a rule or method be supposed necessary in the case of Scripture more than in that of any other book? And who can it be, after all, but an individual, or a company of individuals, that is to read and prove?] but it is plainly implied that some one can discover in the Scriptures statements plain enough to establish all the essential Articles of Faith, and this is all that is necessary for our present purpose. No doubt this “some one” may be affirmed to be a Council, or the Pope, or the ancient Church: but until it is proved that these, or any of them, possess by Divine right a power to see in Scripture what the ordinary Christian cannot see, of which we say that no proof exists, [Art. xxi., On the Authority of General Councils.] the Article must retain its natural meaning.
It is hardly to be supposed that a collection of books which professes to contain a Divine revelation would be purposely written so as not to be understood. To demand reverence towards writings of this character would be to set up a kind of fetish worship, and must be accounted wholly unworthy of Him from whom we believe them to have proceeded. The Scriptures, too (to speak at present only of the New Testament), were addressed not to schools of philosophers, nor even to the ministerial order exclusively, but to whole Churches, containing men of every degree of culture and ability. That they would be understood by these must have been the expectation of the writers; and if they had been virtually in an “unknown tongue,” the Apostle Paul, at least, would hardly have enjoined their being read in the public assemblies of Christians (Col. 4:16, 1 Thess. 5:27; compare 1 Cor. 14). Now, it is true that we, as compared with the early Christians, labour under some disadvantages for the understanding of these writings; the language which was a living one to them, is to us no longer so; allusions familiar to them present, it may be, difficulties now; we possess not the advantage of living Apostles to explain their own statements; and other sources of comparative obscurity exist. But by the providence of God, sufficient knowledge of the language, and of the history, private and public, of the times, has come down to us to put us, for all practical purposes, in the position of the first readers. And what difficulties do remain cannot be supposed to affect the essentials of faith. [An important distinction is to be drawn between obscurity of the subject matter and obscurity of the expression – e.g., “The Word became flesh”; here the fact is most mysterious, but the language is plain enough. We see “through a glass darkly” as regards many revealed facts, such as the Incarnation or the Holy Trinity; but the question between Romanists and Protestants is not whether the things are obscure, but whether the language in which they are expressed is sufficiently plain.]
Moreover, whatever the obscurity of Scripture may be, the question remains whether the sources we are referred to for its removal are themselves plainer. If it is the Creeds, their controversial clauses are, many of them, not very clear in meaning, and, at any rate, might be made the subject of prolonged debate; if a catena of the Fathers, say of the first four centuries, it is doubtful whether, amidst conflicting statements, any consentient interpretation, except as regards a few leading passages, could be extracted from their works. In truth, of all species of tradition, the hermeneutical is the least capable of being reduced to form. [As is confessed by Möhler – “We could hardly, with the exception of a very few classical passages, discover in them (the Fathers) any general agreement of interpretation, beyond the fact that they all teach the same doctrine of faith and morals” (Symb., p. 390). In truth, the prescription of the Council of Trent, “Ut nemo contra unanimem consensum Patrum ipsam Scripturam sacram interpretari audeat” (sess. iv.), or any similar one, is incapable of fulfillment.] But, even if such did exist, it must be expressed in human language, the meaning of which itself would become subject to controversy; the interpreters would need to be interpreted themselves, and so on ad infinitum. The truth is, it is not because of the obscurity of Scripture that so much controversy has arisen respecting its meaning, but because of the universal latent feeling that it is, or ought to be considered, the supreme Rule of Faith; and if any other book, or formulary, were to occupy this position in its stead, there would be just as much dispute respecting its meaning. The controversy evidently would be endless, unless it could be referred at last to the decision of a living, infallible judge; which is, in fact, the conclusion to which the Romanist is ultimately driven.
It is not, indeed, affirmed that Scripture contains no obscure passages – passages in which the allusion is not apparent, or the expression ambiguous, or the construction difficult, or the reasoning not at first sight clear, or which may be prophetical and await light to be thrown upon them by future events; but this is only what occurs also in heathen authors, of whose general meaning we entertain no doubt. Scripture contains in itself a germinant principle, and what may be obscure, or not acted upon in one age of the Church, may come to full recognition in another. The teaching of S. Paul on the topics of original sin and predestination can hardly be said to have received its due attention before the appearance of that great luminary of the Western Church, Augustine; nor the teaching of the same Apostle on justification, previously to the Reformation. It was not until much later that Christian men perceived that the principles enunciated in the Pauline Epistles are inconsistent with the institution of slavery, though the institution itself is never expressly condemned; and efforts were made to remove the scandal. But these admissions are compatible with the conviction that on all the essential points of faith, morals and discipline, Scripture is sufficiently perspicuous, it being presupposed that the reader brings with him a willingness to receive what it seems plainly to teach. [“These Epistles” (S. Paul’s) “were certainly addressed to the whole Church, and were meant to be understood by men of average intelligence, who applied their attention properly. Their predestinarian meaning in parts is, on the whole, clear and decided, and the reason why their meaning is thought by many to be so very obscure and difficult to get at, is that they will not acknowledge this predestinarian meaning to be the true one. These interpreters create difficulties for themselves by rejecting the natural meaning of passages, and then lay the difficulty on the passages.” Mozley “On Predestination,” note viii. The remark is applicable to many parts of Scripture, besides those relating to predestination.] And it may well be that some difficulties have, been suffered to remain, in order to stimulate curiosity, and to lead to a more diligent study of the sacred volume. [“Magnifice et salubriter ita Spiritus S. Scripturas modificavit ut locis apertioribus fami occurreret, obscurioribus autem fastidia detergeret” (Aug. De doc. Christ. lib. ii. c. 7). Gerh. loc. ii. § 2.]
The Protestant rule of interpretation is thus enunciated in the Helvetic Confession: “Scripture (as the Apostle Peter says) is not of private interpretation, consequently we do not approve of any and every interpretation, much less of that which the Romish Church imposes, but only of that which is sought out of Scripture itself (due regard being had to the original languages, etc.), and which agrees with the Rule of faith and charity. The interpretations of the Fathers and the definitions of Councils we do not undervalue, but neither do we assign to them unlimited authority. In matters of faith we admit but of one Judge, God Himself speaking through the Scriptures; and as regards human opinions, the weight which we attach to them depends upon their being those of spiritually enlightened men.” [Conf. Helv. i. c. 1.] Here is stated the great Protestant Canon – SCRIPTURE IS ITS OWN AUTHENTIC INTERPRETER; [More explicitly enunciated in another part of the same confession, “Hujus (scripturae) interpretatio ex se ipsa sola petenda est, ut ipsa interpres sit sui, caritatis fideique moderante regula” (ii. 2).] on which, as against Rome, all the Protestant Churches are in agreement. This rule rests on a twofold foundation – the doctrine of inspiration, and the structure of the volume. Each book of Scripture being the Word of God, in a sense in which no other writing is, requires for an authentic interpretation of it an interpreter similarly gifted with the writer, and none such is or can be formed outside the Canon itself: to interpret the writings of S. Paul, so that the interpretation shall be free from possibility of error, can only be the work of another Canonical writer; uninspired expositions may be valuable, but they can never be put on a level with the writing expounded. It might have been, however, that no inspired comment on another inspired writing could exist – that the Bible had been the production of one author; in which case, no doubt, the Protestant Canon would have been difficult of application. But here the structure of the volume comes to our aid. For, in fact, Scripture is not the production of a single writer (as regards its human authorship), but a collection of books by different authors, of various gifts and diversified religious experience, only connected together by the supernatural tie of inspiration. Hence, what is wanting in one may be supplied by another; and this is actually the case. The Levitical ritual is a system of dumb elements until we study it in conjunction with the Epistle to the Hebrews; the fourth Gospel could not have been dispensed with if we were to have a full portraiture of the Word become flesh; on the question of justification, S. Paul needs to be read with S. James, and both with S. John. Now, the writing of each of these authors is really an interpretation of his coadjutor in the same field; not exactly an exposition – we cannot say that one writer comments on another – but yet really an interpretation in this sense, that the full meaning of the New Testament on any point cannot be gathered without a comparison of all the writers. And by this comparison it may be satisfactorily ascertained. If it is not S. John, or S. James commenting on S. Paul, it is the Holy Spirit Himself supplementing, through the individuality of S. John or S. James, what He had conveyed through the individuality of S. Paul; which latter, because it had been conveyed through an individual without obliterating his peculiarities of character and training, could not, without a needless miracle, present all the sides or aspects of Divine truth – the πολυποίκιλος σοφία of God (Ephes. 3:10) – but needed the completion which it actually received from other inspired sources. Thus the books of the New Testament (to confine our attention to these) mutually interpret, and are interpreted by, each other; the structure of the volume points to its design and use; and relieves us from the necessity of seeking in other quarters than within itself instruction on the essentials of faith and practice.
The fundamental system of Christian doctrine thus elicited from a comparison of scripture with scripture, and of one book with another, is what writers on dogmatic theology call the “analogy of faith,” [“Analogiam fidei, id est, vocem Spiritus S. in perspicuis locis sonantem” (J. Gerh. loc. ii. c. 6). The expression is derived from Rom. 12:6; where, however, it bears an altogether different meaning.] in accordance with which doubtful passages are to be explained. It is obvious that this must be gathered from Scripture itself, otherwise it would be tradition under another name. It is not, however, a mere stringing of texts together on certain subjects, but the doctrine which lies at the foundation of the various passages which relate to a subject; substantially the same amidst the variety of forms under which it may be presented. That such a substantial identity may and must exist is an inference from the unity of the primary Author, the Holy Spirit: if the human authors, however otherwise differing from each other, derived inspiration from one source, no real contradiction, none at least affecting essential points can be supposed possible. Whether the reader discovers this unity or not depends more upon his moral and spiritual than upon his literary qualifications: Scripture is understood by the light itself imparts; but as the sun’s rays shine in vain to the blind, so if the organ of spiritual vision be not in a sound state, it may well be that the meaning of Scripture shall be missed, or at least the analogy of faith not perceived. Nor is this without its analogy in merely human systems. The Platonic philosophy, for example, is a connected system; it is understood to lie at the foundation of the various treatises of Plato; statements or expressions in his writings which at first sight may seem to present difficulties are equitably interpreted by a reference to his philosophy as a whole; and some have not hesitated to say that no one can fully understand, still less be a successful commentator on these writings, whose intellectual and moral endowments are not in sympathy with those of the philosopher. [“Every man is born either a Platonist or an Aristotelian” (Coleridge).]
But Romanists adduce not merely varieties of meaning in passages, but essential ambiguity in the language of Scripture; which latter may be literal and figurative, and figurative in many senses. [“Est Scripturae proprium, quia, Deum habet auctorem, ut saepenumero duos contineat sensus, literalem sive historicum, et spiritualem sive mysticum” (Bellarm. De V. D. lib. iii. c. 3). The “sensus literalis” is again divided into “simplex” and “figuratus”; the “spiritualis” into “allegoricus,” “tropologicus,” and “anagogicus” (ibid.); which are explained in the following distich: “Littera gesta docet; quod credas Allegoria; / Moralis quid agas; quod spores Anagogia.”] And so it may be, and is, in uninspired productions, without leading to real ambiguity. There seems to be, in fact, a confusion here between the meaning of a passage and the nature of the language employed; which latter may no doubt be figurative, or analogical, and yet not introduce a double sense. The instance adduced by Bellarmine, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27) is in point. Although the term “sheep” is figurative, and needs to be explained from other passages, there is but one meaning to the passage. Or merely typical applications, or accommodations (intended as such by the Holy Spirit), are transformed into double senses: as the passage, “Moses made a serpent of brass,” etc. (Num. 21:8), which by our Lord is applied to Himself typically (John 3:14); or “A voice was heard in Ramah,” etc. ( Jer. 31:15), which by the Evangelist is accommodated to the slaughter of the innocents by Herod (Matt. 2:17, 18). But there is no real ambiguity in the meaning; as there is in the famous oracle, Aio te, AEacida, Romanos vincere posse. Hence the hermeneutical Canon on the Protestant side, that each passage of Scripture admits, in the first instance, of but one sense, and that the grammatical; and, indeed, it is plain that if any sense might be imposed on a passage, this would be tantamount to its having no definite sense; and thus Scripture would become useless as a Rule of Faith.
There appears, therefore, nothing special in this case to warrant the assumption that a living infallible interpreter is necessary; and we may add, that if such had been intended we should surely have been left in no doubt to what body, or individual, the authority is committed. But Romanists themselves are, or until lately were, not agreed on this point. Is then each reader to be the judge of the meaning of Scripture? Properly understood, this is nothing but the truth. It must be the reader himself who is to judge; and this whether he expects to extract the sense from the text itself, or betakes himself to an infallible interpreter; for, even in the latter case, he must have previously convinced himself, by an exercise of his own judgment, that the interpreter is infallible. Directly or indirectly, the reader is the ultimate judge.
Standing tribunals, an infallible chair, would not be in harmony with a religion which aims at producing free conviction; and prefers an agreement gradually reached by conference, by study, by prayer, to one prematurely snatched by the submission of individual judgment to an external authority – that is, in fact, by the subjugation of reason and conscience to the mere “subjectivity” of another. And thus, on the basis of the analogy of faith – “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephes. 4:5, 6) – without the acknowledgment of which a Church would be no Church, but only a casual assemblage; by preaching, by versions, by conferences, by commentaries, by treatises of all sorts, by private Christian intercourse, the meaning of Scripture is gradually approximated to, though never finally exhausted; in the way and by the methods intended by its Divine Author – methods not legally stringent, or authoritatively decisive, as might be suitable to the dispensation of the law, but living, plastic, spiritual, as becomes a dispensation of grace and truth (John 1:14), the manhood, not the infancy, of revealed religion (Gal. 4:1, 15).
As regards the question of interpretation, no hermeneutical tradition either exists, or is necessary, to enable us to ascertain the meaning of Scripture. But there is another kind of tradition, to which, indeed, the name is more commonly applied, and which the Church of Rome asserts to be of equal authority with Scripture, viz., additions to the written Word, supposed to have come down from the Apostles by an independent channel. The traditions of the Church, the Council of Trent affirms, whether relating to faith or practice, are to be received with the same reverence as Holy Scripture itself. [“Puri pietatis affectu et reverentia” (sess. iv.).] There is an unwritten [Not that it was never committed to writing, for it is supposed to be found in the Fathers and other uninspired sources; but that it was not committed to writing, like Scripture, by the first inspired author. “Vocatur doctrina non scripta, non ea quae nusquam scripta est, sed quae non scripta est a primo auctore, exemplo sit Baptismus parvulorum” (Bellarm. De V. D. lib. iv. c. 2).] as well as a written Word of God; and the former was intended to run parallel with the latter, both conjointly forming the Church’s Rule of Faith. As in the preceding section the perspicuity, so in the present the sufficiency, of Holy Scripture is the question in debate. The Reformed Churches admit no such coordinate source of things to be believed as necessary to salvation. Ecclesiastical practices which have been handed down from antiquity, and are not repugnant to Scripture, they do not indiscriminately reject; the decisions of Councils they do not undervalue; the three Creeds they accept as agreeable to Scripture and venerable monuments of the faith of the early Church; but none of these can claim to be the Word of God in the sense in which Scripture is, or, indeed, in any sense. “No Word of God,” says one of the Protestant Confessions, “at the present day exists, or can certainly be ascertained, concerning doctrines or precepts necessary to salvation, which is not written or based on the Scriptures, but has (as is alleged) been committed by unwritten tradition to the custody of the Church.” [Dec. Thor. de Reg. Fid.] The decision of the Tridentine Fathers is otherwise, and so is the statement of the principal theologian of their Church. “The controversy between us and heretics” (Protestants), says Bellarmine, consists in this – that we assert that all necessary doctrine concerning faith and morals is not expressly contained in Scripture, and, consequently, besides the written Word there is needed an unwritten one; whereas they teach that in the Scriptures all such necessary doctrine is contained, and consequently there is no need of an unwritten Word.” [De V. D. lib. iv. c. 3.]
The real question at issue must be clearly understood. A “Word of God,” whether written or unwritten, conveys the idea of a revelation – something to be believed as an essential part of the Christian scheme. And it is in this sense that the expression is used in the Protestant Confessions, when they treat of this subject. “Holy Scripture,” we say, “containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith” (Art. vi.). It is not affirmed that rites and ceremonies, in themselves indifferent, should be summarily rejected if not literally found in Scripture; or that it is necessary to adduce express Scriptural authority for such as we retain. Hooker, long ago, successfully maintained against the Puritans that the Church possesses an inherent power to adapt her polity or ritual to changing circumstances, provided always that such ecclesiastical regulations are in harmony with the spirit of the Apostolic tradition as it is preserved in Scripture. She may be justified, for example, in introducing or retaining infant baptism, though no instance of it occurs in Scripture, and its express Apostolic origin may be doubtful, as “agreeable to the institution of Christ” (Art. xxvii.), or the general spirit of the Christian dispensation. “Traditions and ceremonies” of this kind, if “not repugnant to the Word of God,” are recognized as possessing a relative authority, so far as not to be needlessly infringed (Art. xxxiv.); but they can with no propriety be termed part of the Word of God, or necessary to salvation. Whether retained or rejected, they stand on the lower ground of expediency or order. But these are the things which the Romish controversialist commonly adduces as instances of the “unwritten Word of God”; a skilful extension of the term to what really does not come under it. The instances, for example, which Bellarmine relies on are infant baptism (as distinguished from adult), the forty days’ Lenten fast, and the use of the holy oil in baptism. [De V. D. lib. iv. c. 9.] Would he himself have maintained that these things are necessary to salvation? or that a Church which does not practice them, or some of them, thereby cuts itself off from the body of Christ. [Much confusion has arisen from the indiscriminate use of the word “tradition” to signify either doctrines or ceremonies. “Semper autem memoria repetendum est, statum disputationis Pontificiorum de traditionibus hunc esse: – Scripturam non omnia quae ad articulos fidei et ad dogmata pietatis pertinent, habere, sed multa quae ad articulos fidei necessaria sunt, credenda esse sine Scriptura, extra et praeter Scripturam, ex traditionibus non scriptis” (Chemnitz, Exam. lib. ii.).]
Confining our attention, then, to such tradition as may properly be termed the Word of God, the first question that we naturally ask is, Where is it to be found? And the answer is precisely the same as in the case of hermeneutical tradition; viz., that whether this unwritten word ever existed or not, that is, whether the Apostles taught more or otherwise than what is recorded in the Canonical Scriptures, no church or individual is now in a position to adduce a syllable thereof with certainty. Bellarmine divides such traditions into those of which Christ Himself was the Author, those which the Apostles delivered, and those which the Church has made such [De V. D. lib. iv. c. 2. The Church makes a tradition Apostolical, just as it claims the power to make a book Canonical.]: nothing under any of the divisions can be produced which can establish its claims to be received as a gift to the Church, supplementary to what is contained in Holy Scripture. There is no evidence for the Apostolicity of such doctrines, as, e.g., Purgatory, or the Immaculate Conception, or the Infallibility of the Pope; and the decisions of the existing Church cannot supply the missing links of history.
It is desirable that there should be no misunderstanding on the point in debate. The vehicle of transmission is immaterial provided we have the same certainty in either case. The inspired oral teaching of the Apostles stood exactly on the same footing as their inspired written teaching: we pay no superstitious reverence to a book as such, that is, as distinguished from instruction conveyed orally. Let the tradition of the latter be authenticated as Scripture is, and we are ready to assign to it the same authority. It is not because they are unwritten, but because they cannot certainly be proved to be Apostolical, that traditions affecting the faith, not found in Scripture, or to be proved thereby, are to be rejected as an unwritten word; and the sufficiency of Scripture is to be inferred from the fact, not that the words were traced with a pen, but that it is really the only Apostolical tradition which can with certainty be pronounced such. S. Paul tells the Corinthians that what he had received of the Lord he had delivered to them (1 Cor. 11:23); he exhorts the Thessalonians to hold the traditions which they had been taught, whether by word or epistle (2 Thess. 2:15), and to rebuke the brother that walked not after the tradition which he had received (2 Thess. 3:6); he enjoins Timothy to hold fast the form of sound words which he had heard (2 Tim. 1:13): either these (oral) traditions have irretrievably perished, or (as is the fact) they have passed, in another form, into the written Word, so that the Bible comprehends both the written and the unwritten Word of God, and we need not look further. In short, no Apostolical teaching is certainly extant except that which is embalmed in the New Testament; and if any such were to be disinterred, it would be equivalent to the discovery of a new Canonical book.
The first Christian Church was, no doubt, founded by the oral teaching of the Apostles, and continued for some time dependent on that oral teaching; never, however, wholly without a written Word, for it had the Old Testament, and the Apostles were always careful to connect their teaching, as far as might be, with the Jewish Scriptures (Acts 17:2, 3; 18:28; 28:23); but still, certainly, without New Testament Scriptures. And if it had been provided that a succession of Apostles, of men inspired as S. Paul and S. John were, should continue to the close of this dispensation, the Church could have been perpetuated, and preserved from error, as it was during the Apostles’ life-time. This, however, was not the appointed plan. The men were to drop off in the course of nature and in succession, and an Apostolate of the written Word was to take their place, the men surviving in their writings. This work commenced in due time, and continued through a series of years; one Apostolical writing proving itself on and by another, until the Canon was complete. These writings may be obscure or defective, but it is certain that we have nothing else to rely upon as genuine Apostolical tradition. And let us imagine what would be our condition if, without a living Apostolate, we had nothing but a tradition of oral teaching to look to, no authentic record of what Christ and the Apostles delivered. We need not go far to form a prediction. The Jews held fast to their written Word, but as soon as ever they attempted to complete it by traditions, it was to make it void (Mark 7:9). Certain Christian Churches retain, and profess to honour, the written Word; but they have admitted the principle of tradition as a coordinate authority, and the practical aspect of their Christianity is not such as to recommend the principle. It follows that a doctrine which professes to rest on unwritten tradition must be tested by its agreement with what we know to be Apostolical tradition, while we are not certain that anything else is; and be accepted, or rejected, accordingly.
Pressed by these difficulties, the modern Romish controversialist modifies, by spiritualizing it, the idea of tradition. “What,” asks Möhler, [Symbolik, s. 38.] “is tradition? It is that sentiment which belongs to the Church, and propagates itself by means of the teaching of the Church; it is the living Word in the hearts of the faithful. To this sentiment the interpretation of Scripture in the decision of doubtful questions is entrusted; or, in other words, the Church is the judge of controversies. In an external historical form” (where this is to be found Möhler does not attempt to explain), “i.e., reduced to writing, this inner sentiment becomes the standard and Rule of Faith. In every political community a certain national character or spirit distinguishes it from other communities, and expresses itself in the public and domestic life, the laws and customs, the art and literature, of the community. This is its guardian genius, and as long as it flourishes in pristine vigour, it preserves the continuity of the national life; either absorbing into itself or expelling foreign elements, should they make their appearance. When it becomes feeble, internecine factions and party spirit split up the body politic, and the latter tends to its dissolution. How much more must this be the case with the Church which is the body of Christ, His perpetual incarnation, possessing a more refined and delicate organization than any earthly society. Here to allow private opinions or private interpretations of Scripture to prevail against the common sentiment would be suicide; it is only to the whole body that the promises of its exalted Head belong, and to it alone therefore it appertains to decide.” Thus far Möhler.
It is obvious that this is a conception of tradition very different from that of Bellarmine; and in fact, there is a great deal in it which the Protestant is not at all concerned to deny. For what is this “common sentiment” of the Church of which the gifted author speaks, but the spiritual illumination which is the fruit of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and which so far are Protestants from disparaging that, as we have seen (§ 3), they make it a necessary constituent in the argument for Canonicity. [Tradition, therefore, is an improper term to apply to it; being a gift of grace, it is incapable of being handed down from one generation to another, as a book, a doctrine, or a practice can.] And it is true that this gift belongs to the whole body, and to individuals as supposed to be members of the body. Moreover, it is certainly in its essence “unwritten” tradition, for its primary seat is the heart (2 Cor. 3:3), from which it may never emerge in spoken or written forms. But is it an absolutely independent sentiment? No, for if it is the work of the Holy Spirit it is so through the external instrument specially thereunto appointed – the written Word of God. Through this, as an instrument, mediately or immediately applied, the Holy Spirit calls the inner sentiment of the Church into being; dissociated from the written Word such alleged sentiment, as experience amply proves is apt to become fanatical, or worse: it is not produced, nor can it be perpetuated, in its proper purity apart from the written Apostolic tradition. But what is thus dependent upon another thing can never stand alone; it may, and it does, possess a relative independence, but the ultimate test of its genuineness must lie out of itself, viz., in the inner sentiment of those writings respecting which we stand in no doubt that they come from God. But it is worth while to dwell a little longer on this point.
The oral teaching of the Apostles preceded their written, and the Church existed before the New Testament Scriptures. Strictly and formally, therefore, the Church cannot be said to be founded on the Scriptures as a book, but on the doctrine which the Scriptures contain. [Hence the Canonicity of Scripture is not itself an article of faith. Bellarmine remarks with truth: “Credere historias testamenti veteris vel evangelia Marci, Lucae, etc., esse canonica scripta, immo ullas esse divinas Scripturas, non est omnino necessarium ad salutem, nam sine fide hac multi sunt salvati antequam Scripturae scriberentur” (De Eccl. lib. iii. c. 14).] And what was the order then is, by providential appointment, the order now – oral teaching precedes the written Word. Children receive the first lessons of Christianity from their parents, catechumens from their instructors, congregations from their pastors; certainly the heathen from their missionaries. “The Bible alone the religion of Protestants,” is a saying which, most true in its proper acceptation, may be misunderstood; as, for example, if it be supposed to mean that scattering broadcast translations of the Scriptures is the appointed means of converting the heathen. And thus, no doubt, there may exist for a time a pure Christian faith amongst those who have never seen the Scriptures. [Irenaeus, Cont. haer. lib. iii. c. 4. But, after all, Irenaeus may mean no more, with respect to the barbarous people of whom he speaks, than S. Paul does with respect to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 3:2, 3). Bellarm. De V. D. iv. c. 7.] But not only has this oral teaching, if it is pure, been derived from the Scriptures, but it is the bounden duty of the Church along with it to place the inspired volume in the hands of the young within her pale, or of her heathen converts; and to do so as soon as possible, in view of the too probable contingency of the enemy’s sowing tares. Nay, a considerable part of the oral teaching itself must consist of simple exposition of the sacred text. But as soon as this duty is fulfilled, there commences that healthy interaction between the Church and the Scriptures which was intended by their Divine Author; the Church teaching, the Scriptures proving; the Church speaking, no doubt, with authority (in the proper sense of the word), but ever appealing to the Scripture in confirmation of what she advances: and then it becomes difficult to distinguish how much of the common Christian sentiment has proceeded from the oral teaching, and how much from Scripture; still more difficult to maintain that the former could have been what it is, if it is pure, without the latter. The case, then, supposed, as it must be if the argument is to be valid, of an inner tradition or sentiment, quite independent of Scripture, and ruling its interpretation, can never arise except in a Church which withholds the Scripture from the laity, and in so doing disparages Apostolical tradition itself. Where the Scriptures are freely read and habitually expounded, the spiritual perception of the Church is constantly recruited and corrected from them, so that the inner and the written tradition become inextricably intermingled. Should it, however, happen, as it may do and frequently has done, that the prevailing sentiment of the Church, that is, the visible Church, has, from the Scriptures falling into abeyance or other causes, drifted away from the Apostolic standard; and this latter in the disinterred Scriptures comes into collision with the former; how is the difficulty to be met? A very prevalent ecclesiastical sentiment, for example, pleaded in the person of Dr. Eck, Luther’s antagonist, for the sale of indulgences, and a similar one in the persons of inquisitors demanded that they whose only crime was that they could not believe certain doctrines, should be sent to the stake. There can be no doubt as to the answer. The voice of God in His written Word must control and correct the voice of God in the Church (real work of the Holy Spirit as that may be); for while the former was delivered, as we have seen (§ 4), under a special Divine superintendence, the latter enjoys no such prerogative, and is liable not merely to an admixture, but to a predominance, of human infirmity. The Romanist, however, cuts the knot otherwise. If the Church and Scripture seem to differ, so much the worse for Scripture. Scripture must give way for it is only a book which any one who fancies he understands it may make what he pleases of, while the sentiment of the Church is infallible. It is the necessary result of his theory. [See Möhler, Symb. ss. 39, 40.]
But, it may be urged, we have in the Creeds a Rule of Faith, and one in some measure independent of Scripture. Christendom, as a whole, accepts the three Ecumenical Creeds; and, moreover, each Church has its own particular symbol, which, to it, seems practically its Rule of Faith; the Romish Church, the decrees of Trent and its Catechism; the Anglican, its Thirty-nine Articles; the Lutheran, the Confession of Augsburg; the Swiss Churches, the Helvetic Confessions. If these are not, respectively, Rules of Faith, what are they? The question is not unimportant.
The reply, then, is that, although these formularies may for certain purposes, and under certain aspects, be considered Rules of Faith, none of them is the Rule of Faith; and, in fact, they are Rules in quite a different sense from that in which Scripture is. And our Church, in Article viii., is careful to guard against any misunderstanding on this point. The three Creeds, especially the earliest of them, come to us with the greatest claims to our attention, as deliberate professions of the faith of the Church of the first centuries on certain fundamental doctrines; professions, as regards the two later, put forth after much controversy, and under circumstances which lend peculiar weight to them. But in their present form they are not of Apostolical origin. Their contents, or the main truths expressed in them, we, of course, believe to be Apostolical, otherwise we should not receive them; but the mode of expression, the statement of the truths, was the work of uninspired men. They form, therefore, an Apostolical tradition only in the sense of being attempts to state, explain, or defend, the great doctrines respecting the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, which, in an unsystematic form, are expressed or implied in Scripture. The fable which makes the Apostles’ Creed the joint production of the Twelve has been long since exploded; the various forms under which, though in substance the same, it was used in different localities, sufficiently prove that the Apostles left no such summary behind them; or only such bare elements as, e.g., 1 Cor. 15:3, 4. This does not in the least derogate from its just authority as the oldest traditionary relic of what the first Christians believed on certain points, or from its value as a basis of Christian instruction, or as a baptismal profession of faith. But it does invalidate its claim to supersede, or to be coordinate with Scripture as the Rule of Faith; for, like all other alleged traditionary relics, we cannot, in its present form, trace it directly to the Apostles. How much more does this apply to the two subsequent Creeds; one of which is the production of a Council which “may err even in things pertaining to God” (Art. xxi.), and the other is probably a work of the fifth century. But besides this, a moment’s inspection of the Creeds proves that they are insufficient to be the Rule of Faith. The Apostles’ Creed, though the Trinitarian hypothesis lies at the base of it, is so meagre in its statements on that subject that Socinians have always professed their willingness to subscribe to it. It omits, too, all mention of the Sacraments and their nature, and all allusion to the doctrine of justification; points important enough to have produced a separation, apparently permanent, between large sections of the Western Church. The later Creeds, though explicit against Arianism and Sabellianism, do not fully supply these defects. On the whole, these venerable formularies cannot be considered a complete Rule of Faith; and we may add, they were never intended to be so; they were special protests against special heresies. They expressed not what the Church was to believe, but what she did believe on the doctrines assailed; they are not norma credendi but norma crediti. And, as such, they can only make good their claims by proving their correspondence with Holy Scripture (Art. viii.). Nor is there anything essentially permanent in the form in which they enunciate these doctrines; the permanency belongs to the doctrines themselves. That is to say, though we may admire the precision of language in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, and think it could hardly be improved upon, yet the Church is not tied to these or any other uninspired formularies; and even if the Creeds had perished, though the loss would have been great, the Church, taught from above and possessing the written Word, would be able, should the necessity again arise, to frame new formularies suitable to express her faith and to expel error.
Yet the Creeds, and other symbols of particular Churches, are in a certain sense a Rule of Faith; they are so to the members of the Christian society which has adopted these symbols, and made them tests of admission: the proper light to regard them in is, as terms of communion. They lay down, that is, the conditions on which an applicant is to be admitted a member of the society. In framing such conditions, the society does not arrogate to itself infallibility; it merely states what it believes as such a society, and reminds the applicant that if he becomes a member thereof he must be supposed to share its convictions. If he does not share them, he is under no compulsion to join the society; and if he ceases to share them, he is under no compulsion to continue a member. Our Church proposes the Apostles’ Creed to candidates for baptism as sufficient to stamp a distinctive character on their profession. If the candidate agrees with this, her interpretation of Scripture, he is admitted; otherwise not. Such terms of communion are obviously a very different thing from the Rule of Faith. And what the Apostles’ Creed, or the two other Creeds, are to the Church at large, each Church’s particular symbol is to itself; with this difference, that such symbol affects rather the teachers than the mere members of the society in question. Our Thirty-nine Articles are terms of Communion for the clergy of our Church; we do not propose them to mere candidates for baptism. Such subscription is intended, and is necessary, to provide some guarantee that our teachers accept the peculiar ecclesiastical position which we occupy in reference to other Churches. For this position is one of opposition, not merely to the ancient heresies, but to various errors (as we believe them to be) of the Church of Rome; and to leave it open to public teachers to teach what they please on other points, provided they adhere to the doctrines of the three Creeds, would be to ignore an essential feature of our Church, and to reduce it, so far, to a nebulous haze, without form or outline. The points of difference between us and Rome constitute the really essential portions of our formulary; essential, that is, not to our being a Christian Church, but to the justifying of our position as regards the Romish Communion of which we once formed a part. Hence the attempts that have been made from time to time, in some Reformed Churches, to substitute, e.g., the Apostles’ Creed as the norma docendi for their distinctive confession, cannot be commended. If successful, it would be tantamount to ecclesiastical suicide; nor, for the reasons before given, can this Creed be made the Rule of Faith instead of Scripture. [The well-known theory of Grundtvig, in Denmark. It had been previously defended in a work by Professor Delbrück, of Bonn, which drew forth three valuable letters in reply from Sack, Nitzsch, and Lücke, Bonn, 1827.]
It is almost needless to observe that teachers who have subscribed our symbol cannot claim a right to fall back on Scripture alone, on the ground that we make Scripture the sole Rule of Faith. For the statements of the symbol are, in fact, our Church’s interpretation of Scripture; she claims to have examined Scripture and settled what it teaches; the symbol is to her Scripture or Scriptural; and she justly may call upon her ministers either to adopt her interpretations, or to retire from her communion.
The nature of the sufficiency of Scripture may be dismissed in few words. It contains no catechism, no articulated formulary of doctrine standing out in relief; but the essential doctrines are so interwoven in its texture, that they can no more be separated from it than the miraculous element can from the Gospels. It is the Holy Spirit addressing those in whom He dwells as one friend would another, or as a father would his children come to years of discretion; not as a schoolmaster or lawgiver (Gal. 4:1–7) – “The servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth, but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father, I have made known unto you.” And as regards matters of ritual and polity, precedents are given, principles laid down, but no positive prescriptions or minute details – a ceremonial law forms no part of Apostolic Christianity. But whether as regards doctrine or discipline, the Church has ever found in the sacred volume all that she needs to fulfill her mission in the world, and to conduct herself to eternal glory; all that she needs to refute heresy, or to separate from herself those accretions of error which may be expected, from time to time, to gather round her system in this imperfect state.
§ 5. Relation of the Old Testament to the New
In the Canon of Scripture we include, as has been seen, the books of the Old Testament; but our seventh Article deems it necessary to remind us that there is no contrariety between the two main divisions of the sacred volume, neither as regards the author of salvation (Christ) nor as regards the object of faith (not transitory promises, but eternal life). It is probable that there is an allusion to the Gnostic and Manichean heresies of ancient times, both of which exhibited a tendency to depreciate or reject the Old Testament as unworthy to have proceeded from the same Divine Author who inspired the New. These have passed away; but opinions still differ as regards the propriety of coordinating the Jewish Scriptures with the Christian as a Rule of Faith: or if from the Canonicity of the former this must be allowed in general terms, how far it must be accepted with limitations ; in short, whether, though we may not sever the one from the other, we must not distinguish between them, and especially under the particular point of view now before us. Things may not be contrary the one to the other, and yet may differ in many important respects.
If we believe that the Jewish Scriptures proceeded from the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Christian, it is of course impossible to suppose that the former can contain anything really inconsistent with the latter; still less can this supposition be entertained if we believe that the Mosaic dispensation, in its principal parts, viz., the Ceremonial Law and the institution of Prophecy (which also form the principal subjects of the Old Testament Scriptures), was specially intended to prepare the way for Christianity, or, as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews expresses it, to be a shadow of good things to come (Heb. 10:1). It is thus that Christ and His Apostles speak of this dispensation; they appeal to its prophecies, they illustrate Christian verities by a reference to its ritual, they assert its Divine origin and authority, and the first Christians were so far from supposing that in becoming Christians they were setting up any system of religion contrary to that in which they had been nurtured, that they continued to attend the temple services, and to observe the Jewish feasts; and this under Apostolic sanction (Acts 3:1, 18:21, 21:24). If, later on, the Jewish ritual seemed to be waxing old and ready to pass away (Heb. 8:13), it was only as the type begins to lose its importance in proportion as the anti-type is seen to have come. It is plain that there can be no contrariety between things which thus stand to each other in the relation of prophecy and fulfillment. But, as the very terms “type” and “anti-type” intimate, there may be a distinction.
The general answer then which must be given to the question, How far is the Old Testament to us Christians a Rule of Faith? is, so far as it is in accordance with the clearer revelation of the New. This latter is to us the supreme authority, not only in contradistinction to human tradition, but also to those portions or features of the elder economy which, as compared with the Christian, bear the marks of imperfection, or of a merely provisional use; and which therefore, we justly argue, have been superseded by the later revelation.
We may observe, then, that the two portions of Scripture are in complete accordance as regards the characteristics of a Monotheistic religion, founded on the moral attributes of Deity, and thus distinguished as well from the impure nature worship as from the polytheism of heathenism. Hence, whatever instruction the Old Testament imparts respecting the nature and attributes of the Most High – His spirituality, power, goodness, holiness, and all-embracing providence – belongs to us as much as to those to whom it was originally addressed. All this is presupposed in the New Testament. Again, the religious experience of holy men of old, as portrayed especially in the Book of Psalms, connects us with them: insomuch that these lyrical compositions of the Old Testament have ever been found to adapt themselves readily to the purposes of Christian worship. With the exception of some portions, due to the immaturity of religion at that stage of its existence, and which our superior light enables us to separate from the mass, they adequately represent our religious experience: they fix for ever the substance and form of the emotional side of religion ; no small advantage, when we remember how easily the latter lends itself to perversion or deterioration. The typical import too of the Ceremonial Law, so far as it is declared in the New Testament, is of abiding value; not the ceremonies themselves, but the truths shadowed forth in them and fulfilled in Christ, such as vicarious sacrifice and the covering of sin with blood. The ciphers of the Law, interpreted by the pen of inspiration itself, remain even to us a valuable source of instruction; and the place where the Lord lay, under the veil of type and symbol, can never to Christians lose its interest. Finally, the moral lessons of the Old Testament, so much insisted on by the prophets to the disparagement of the mere ritual, remain as obligatory as ever they were. To some such extent as this the Jewish Scriptures form a portion of our Rule of Faith.
On the other hand, there are parts of them which have become antiquated by the coming of Christ. The Theocracy, e.g., as a civil regimen, cannot be reproduced in the present day: the perfect fusion which it presented of the civil and religious economy, or, as we should now term it, of Church and State, was only possible where the Almighty Himself condescended to be a temporal King, and where idolatry was not only a sin but disloyalty to the Monarch, a crime laesae majestatis: a truth too much forgotten by the Puritans of the seventeenth century, and not always recognized even now in its full import and inferences. “The civil precepts” of the Law of Moses ought not “of necessity to be received in any commonwealth” (Art. vii.). Human priests, too, and visible sacrifices have been for ever displaced in the Christian Church by the One High Priest, and His one sacrifice on the cross; another truth which not only is set at nought in the Romish system, but seems forgotten by some modern Protestant expositors of Jewish prophecy. Again, fulfilled prophecy belongs rather to the department of Christian evidences than to the subject of the Rule of Faith. And, generally, the spirit of the Old Testament gendered to bondage (Gal. 4:24); the Law exacted an obedience which it furnished no means of fulfilling: it provided no adequate atonement for the sins specified, while for some of a deeper dye it provided no atonement at all: and so far as this was its tendency, it is opposed to the Gospel which reveals a full atonement for all sin, and encourages the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father (Gal. 4:6). The Law still has its use in convincing of sin, but so far as it is merely preparatory to the Christian standing, it is not our standard of faith or experience.
“There is one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things, both visible and invisible: and in the Unity of this Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” (Art. i.). “The Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God” (Art. v.). “Ecclesiae apud nos docent, decretum Nicaenae Synodi de unitate essentiae divinae et de tribus personis verum et sine ulla dubitatione credendum esse; vid, quod sit una essentia divina quae et appellatur, et est, Deus, aeternus, incorporeus, impartibilis; immensa potentia, sapientia, bonitate; Creator et Conservator, omnium rerum visibilium et invisibilium: et tamen tres sint Persona, ejusdem essentiae, et potentiae, et conternae, Pater, Filius, et Spiritus S.” (Conf. Aug. i.). Deum credimus unum esse essentia vel natura, per se subsistentem, immensum, aeternum, Creatorem omnium rerum ... eundem nihilominus Deum immensum, unum et indivisum, credimus Personis inseparabiliter et inconfuse esse distinctum, Patrem, Filium, et Spiritum S.; ita ut Pater ab aeterno generaverit, Filius generatione ineffabili genitus sit, Spiritus S. vero procedat ab utroque, idque ab aeterno, cum utroque adorandus: ita ut sint tres non quidem Dii, sed tres Personae consubstantiales, co-aeternae, et co-aequales, distinctae quoad hypostases, et ordine alia aliam precedens, nulla tamen inaequalitate” (Conf. Helv. c. iii.).
Christian Theism, our present subject, may, as appears from our Articles and the corresponding statements of other Reformed Confessions, be considered under two divisions; one comprising those truths respecting the Divine nature and attributes which are common to all Monotheistic religions, the other the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity, which is distinctive of the Christian faith. In the following discussion this arrangement will be adopted. It must not, however, be supposed that the Monotheism of Christianity is either borrowed from natural religion, or from other sources than revelation. The unity and spirituality of the Divine Being are here to be considered as part of the revealed doctrine of the Godhead, as resting on the authority of the Word of God, no less than the mystery of the Holy Trinity; for the Christian faith is that we worship one God in Trinity as well as Trinity in Unity. [Athanasian Creed.] Only it was the paramount object of the Jewish religion to insist upon the former truths, while the doctrine of the Holy Trinity belongs especially to the Christian revelation. But the later revelation presupposes and incorporates the earlier, so that we must not understand that the Christian faith rests on a twofold foundation, what the light of nature teaches and what Scripture teaches, respecting the nature of God, but on the one foundation of positive revelation. How far natural religion confirms the statements of inspiration is another question, which will presently come under consideration.
Part I – One God
§ 6. Natural Theism
Scripture teaches that there is but “one God,” “living and true,” as distinguished from the gods many and lords many of heathenism; “everlasting” (in the Latin aeternus); incapable, as pure spirit, of being represented in bodily shape, and therefore “without parts,” whether physically or metaphysically; exempt from those human affections which we call “passions” (παθη); among other attributes “of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness”; the Creator and Upholder of the universe. This brief description, or rather attempt at description, of what God is, is sufficient for the needs of practical piety, and further explanations may seem unnecessary. But good reasons may be given for the considerable space devoted to general Theism, as it may be called, in all the dogmatical systems of the older theologians; reasons which certainly do not seem to have lost their force under the present aspects of theological speculation.
Questions relating to the nature and attributes of God, exclusive of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which in Scripture is always associated with the work of redemption, form that part of Christian Theism in which natural and revealed religion overlap each other, and render mutual aid. Reason confessedly is entirely at fault as regards the doctrine of the Holy Trinity; it could never have surmised, and can never fully comprehend, this great mystery of revelation. But Scripture itself recognizes a natural knowledge of God – a γνωστον του θεου, (Rom. 1:19) – partly innate and partly acquired, or capable of acquirement. It even indicates the lines of reasoning by which, from facts observed or experienced, man may rise to some just apprehensions of the Divine Being, and on which philosophy has expended so much thought; as, e.g., the argument from final causes in Psalms 8, 104, 139; that from the idea of God in the mind, in Rom. 1:19; and that from the moral nature of man, in Rom. 2:15. If this natural knowledge of God has, in any instance, been lost, if conscience has been perverted, Scripture ascribes the result to man’s own fault, to a culpable misuse of opportunities, and a depraved will (Rom. 1:20, 21, 24). In short, if no revelation had ever been given, still man, as such, is in possession of innate notions and principles respecting the Divine Being, which he may either improve or stifle, and so rise or fall in the scale of his being. Faint, or practically inoperative, as these traces of the Divine image may be, they are not wholly obliterated. And that their existence should be recognized may be of importance to the Christian argument. For example, the evidences of revealed religion lean, to some extent, on the conclusions of natural. It has been sometimes assumed that miracles alone form the criterion of a revelation. “In what way,” asks Paley, “can a revelation be made but by miracles?” In none that we are able to conceive. The remark is just in the sense that miracles, as a rule, are necessary to attest a Divine mission; but not in the sense that nothing else is necessary. In Scripture the case is supposed of miracles, real ones, being wrought by a malignant power, and in support of error: in the Old Testament to seduce men from the worship of Jehovah (Deut. 13:1–5), in the New to promote the cause of Antichrist (Matt. 24”24, 2 Thess. 2:8–10). On what ground is such a pretended revelation to be rejected? Not solely on that of its contradicting a previous revelation, for the question is, which is the true one, not which is the earlier? It is a case of miracle against miracle, and mere priority does not seem sufficient to warrant a decision. What else can we fall back upon but reason, or conscience, or moral intuition, or by whatever name we choose to call the faculty of moral discrimination; and to fall back upon it as furnishing a relatively independent testimony? It is true that under the light of revelation it may be difficult to determine how much of this moral perception is original, and how much borrowed. We are reminded that the “religion of nature has had the opportunity of rekindling her faded taper by the Gospel light, whether furtively or unconsciously taken”; but even so, a faded taper she must be supposed to have had, or to have. And in the instances cited, it seems to be taken for granted that if this natural moral sense, instead of being allowed to abdicate its office, were in active exercise, it would be sufficient for spiritual guidance to this extent at least, that if the doctrine on behalf of which the miracles should be wrought were immoral or irreligious, there would be warrant for the rejection both of the prophet and his message. It was on a principle somewhat similar that our Lord, when accused of working miracles by the aid of Satan, pointed to their beneficent nature, and asked, could Satan be supposed to operate against himself? In the one case and as in the other, a certain light of nature is presumed, to which an appeal may be made with decisive effect. In Deut. 13, the Jews, as an additional motive, were directed to the temporal benefits conferred on them, for that dispensation was one of temporal inducements: “He [the false prophet] hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God which brought you out of the land of Egypt” (verse 5); but since this appeal could be addressed only to Jews, a wider basis must be sought in those innate notions of God and morality which are the common property of human nature, and coincidence with which stamps the doctrine miraculously attested, as proceeding from God. The existence of this testing moral faculty must also be presupposed in dealing with the question of the inspiration of Holy Scripture. Deborah and the authors of the Book of Psalms, for example, were inspired prophets, though not necessarily commissioned to write, or compile, the books which record their compositions (§ 4); by the aid of the moral faculty, in our case, no doubt, vivified by the teaching of Christianity, we separate in these writings the dross from the ore, and ascribe the former to the mixture of human infirmity from which no prophet but ONE has ever been quite free.
And even if this connection did not exist, or might be dispensed with, natural Theism being relegated to what might seem its more appropriate place, the philosophy of religion, the Christian believer may still derive a satisfaction from perceiving that no contrariety exists between the inferences of reason and the declarations of Scripture on this great subject; similar to that which he derives from the study of the analogy of religion as expounded by Butler. And if he has imbibed the spirit of that great apologist, he will not demand more from the natural argument than that it should lend this negative aid; since his faith rests ultimately, not on the surmises of reason, but on the announcements of revelation.
There is another reason, too, why this topic cannot be safely neglected. From its earliest dawn philosophy has busied itself with speculations concerning the existence and attributes of God, whether there is a God, and if so, what idea we are to form of Him; how His nature is to be defined or described: what His relation to the world, and especially to man, is. This could not be without its influence on the Church; many of her converts from the schools of philosophy carrying with them, when they became Christians, traces of the habits of thought in which they had been nurtured. Hence, though in Church history we meet with few heresies on abstract Theism, speculations on the subject, traceable to philosophical systems, have never failed, from time to time, to make their appearance within the sacred precincts, modifying the aspects of Christian faith, and in some instances impairing its integrity. Pantheism and Dualism – the Scylla and Charybdis of ancient theistic philosophy – did not surrender their dominion without a struggle; and it would be too much to say that even in the present day their influence is not felt. What, for example, but a phase of Dualism is the notion of a limited Theism, lately revived, and apparently a favourite one even with writers who profess to believe in revelation? Theories of this kind, the offspring of philosophy (not always a comprehensive one), must be met, if possible, with the weapons which philosophy itself supplies; and of course this need is the more urgent when they are propounded by those who reject revelation altogether.
A. – The Existence of God
The arguments on this subject have been by some assailed as of no value for their professed purpose, while by others they have been invested with the force of a real demonstration. They seem to have suffered partly from placing them all on the same level as regards cogency, and partly from undue assumptions as to the nature of those which are of real weight. In the following brief sketch, which is all that our limits will allow, an attempt will be made to adjust their claims, and to determine their bearing on Christian faith.
§ 7. A First Cause
Everything which we see around us depends upon something else as its cause: it is not self-existent, but produced. Now the proximate cause is either itself self-existent, or it is, in its turn, the effect of another superior cause; and the same remark applies to every link in the chain of causation, however high it may be traced. We must suppose, then, either the existence of a primary cause, itself uncaused, or of an endless succession of causes, none of which possesses the property of absolute independence. This latter supposition only pushes back the difficulty indefinitely; for since no link in the chain is self-existent, the whole is not so, and the question remains unanswered. On what does the whole depend? We seem thus compelled to ascend to the conception of a Being whose existence depends upon no cause external to Himself, but who is Himself the ground of His own existence (Ens a se – A seitas), to whom we give the name of God.
Again everything visible is, in its nature, contingent, i.e., it may, or it may not, have existed; it has no necessity of existence. And, as above, we must either suppose an endless succession of contingent existences, or arrive at last at some one whose existence is necessary. The latter hypothesis is the only one consistent with reason, and therefore we conclude that such a Being exists (Ens necessarium – causa necessaria).
It is obvious that these lines of thought are not really distinct, and merely denote different aspects under which we contemplate the same object. Thus the first cause of all things must exist necessarily, and a necessarily existing Being must be the first cause. It is the same fact regarded from different points of view.
The philosophical ground of this argument is what is called “the principle of causation”; that is, that everything that comes into existence must have had a cause. But what is a cause? According to some, it is merely an antecedent, and an effect merely a consequent; and the material world exhibits nothing but a succession of antecedents and consequents: when these occur invariably in the same order, we call one cause and the other effect. But they are mere phenomenal changes, and furnish no answer to the question, Did one produce the other? The principle of causation, it is argued, is not a necessary truth independent of facts, but a mere assumption founded on experience; and experience can never give us more than the ideas of antecedent and consequent. Nothing, however, is more certain than that mere contiguity and succession do not convey the full idea of causation; as appears from the familiar illustration of day and night, one of which invariably follows the other, but is in no sense the effect of it. With the idea of a cause we always connect power to produce the effect; we conceive some occult influence passing from the one to the other. Whence do we derive this idea? The objections just mentioned seem to have arisen from overlooking the true source of not the system of physical nature, but our own consciousness. It is from this, and this alone, that we gain the idea of power as distinct from that of mere succession. By an act of volition we move our limbs, and through them produce changes in matter external to us; and when we will to move them, we put forth power in the very act; and it is from the consciousness of this that we consider ourselves the cause of the changes that follow. By analogy, or perhaps by an act of the imagination, we transfer the idea thus gained to the case of physical antecedents and consequents, which otherwise certainly might not suggest it. How mind acts on matter is a mystery, but that it does so act as an efficient cause our consciousness tells us; and this is sufficient to save the theistic argument. Nay, to advance it a step: for we thus learn, not only that proper causation involves the idea of power, but that Mind, so far as our experience extends, is the only or the chief really efficient cause in the universe.
This last extension of the argument is of importance in view of the objections urged against it by the disciples of Comte. Causation, it is said, applies only to changeable phenomena, but matter and force, the substrata of these phenomena, are unchangeable; their sum never varies: they are therefore, so far as we see, uncaused. Let it be admitted then that volition also appears uncaused, and that Mind only can produce mind; the result is simply that we have two coordinate principles in nature: mind and volition can only claim to be co-agents with uncaused matter and force, and must resign their pretensions to an exclusive place in the production of the universe. Two first causes, to say nothing of other possible ones, are as conceivable as one. It may be questioned whether two first, and therefore necessarily existing, causes are conceivable, whether such a notion is not inconsistent with the common intuitions of human reason. Certainly it seems inconsistent with the avowed aim both of Comtism, and of the materialism which this latter calls in as an ally, viz., to discover the monadic primordial principle whence the universe proceeded; for two (not to speak of more) first causes must introduce an eternal dualism into the system of things, and of substances or essences which must mutually limit each other, and therefore cannot be self-existent. But the simple answer is that just given, viz., that we can form no idea of an efficient cause except from what passes within ourselves. Matter and force, as primary sources of physical change, elude our senses altogether; and moreover there exists no analogy between volition and mere natural phenomena which could throw light upon the mode of action of the latter; the argument, therefore, can never be more than a conjecture. Our own consciousness remains the sole basis of our idea of causation, and in this, as in other points, man is the true interpreter of nature.
But the validity of this inference from volition is itself disputed. “The volition,” a distinguished writer remarks, “a state of our mind, is the antecedent; the motion of our limbs, in conformity to the volition, the consequent. This sequence I conceive not to be the effect of consciousness, in the sense intended by the theory. The antecedent, indeed, and the consequent are subjects of consciousness; but the connection between them is a subject of experience. I cannot admit that our consciousness of the volition contains in itself any a priori knowledge that the muscular action will follow. If our nerves of motion were paralyzed, I do not see (unless by information from other people) the slightest ground for supposing that we should ever have known anything of volition as a physical power, or been conscious of any tendency in the feelings of our mind to produce motions of our bodies, or of other bodies.” [Mill, “Logic,” b. iii. c. 5.] It would seem more accurate to say that the antecedent, the state of the mind, is matter of consciousness; that the motion of the body following is matter of experience; and that the connection between the two is a mystery. No doubt, apart from experience we should never have known that volition has a power to move our bodies; but the question is not, whence do we gain our knowledge of the connection between volition and motion? but, what is involved in the act of consciousness, the antecedent? When the writer admits that “the power of the will to move our bodies” is matter of consciousness, he seems to concede the point at issue. For this is all that is contended for, viz., that in every act of volition, followed by a motion of the body, the idea of a power is involved, and that from this we gain the true notion of a cause. From no other instance of antecedent and consequent, certainly from none of a merely physical kind, do we gain this idea; which is tantamount to saying that to us, mind is the only efficient cause in the universe. As to the supposed case of a paralyzed limb, our reasonings, surely, must be founded not on a state of disease, but on the relation of mind and body when both are in their normal condition.
Another eminent writer objects to the theory, “that it is refuted by the consideration that between the overt act of corporeal movement of which we are cognizant, and the internal act of mental determination of which we are also cognizant, [We are not cognizant of the act of mental determination and of the act of corporeal movement in the same sense. The former is self-determined, or matter of direct consciousness; the latter is secondary and empirical.] there intervenes a numerous series of intermediate agencies of which we have no knowledge; multitudes of solid and fluid parts must be set in motion by the will, but of this motion we know from consciousness absolutely nothing.” [Sir W. Hamilton, Lect. on Metaphysics, ii. Lect. xxxix; Mill, Logic i. 389.] But if we have no consciousness of these intermediate agencies, they are to us as if they did not exist. All that is necessary to the argument is that we should be conscious of the first and of the last link in the series, and that the idea of power should intervene. The question seems independent of intermediate agencies, or of theories respecting the agency of mind on matter; it is concerned simply with the irresistible tendency of the human mind to ascribe to every true cause power, or influence, to produce its effect.
The eternity of matter was a recognized tenet of antiquity, even with those who rejected the notion of its being uncaused. Unable to conceive the creation of the world out of nothing, most of the ancient philosophers held matter to be indeed eternal, but not self-existent; it was dependent on the Deity, as light is upon the sun – an eternal emanation from an eternal source. [Cudworth, Syst. b. i. c. 4.] None but avowed atheists taught that mere matter is the sole independent principle of things; even Hylozoism endowing it with an unconscious life by which it is molded into its various forms. [Ibid. c. 3.] When therefore it is affirmed that “the mere existence of the world does not prove a God,” [Mill, “Essay on Theism.”] the statement must be taken with limitations. The existence of inert matter certainly does not lead to the ideas of personality and intelligence as connected with a first cause; nor does this branch of the theistic argument profess to go so far. What it establishes is the reasonableness of the conception of a first cause, eternal and self-existent; and of the high probability, from analogy, that this cause is not matter, or any property of matter, but Mind.
§ 8. An Intelligent First Cause. Final Causes
Marks of order and design in an effect force upon us the conviction of a designer. But the world abounds with examples of orderly arrangement (whence the term κόσμος), and of adaptation of means to ends. This is visible not only in particular instances, e.g., the structure of the eye as compared with its final cause, the power of seeing, but in the combination of these for still further ends; nature, however high we ascend in the scale, ever presenting the same aspect of harmonious cooperation among its various parts towards a designed end, or ends. This, as it is the oldest, is the most forcible argument for the Being of a God: the most forcible, inasmuch as it rests on the clearest analogies. As certainly as we infer from the known final cause of a watch, viz., to show the hour of the day, that intelligence presided over its construction, so we conclude from the subserviency of means to ends in creation that it must have had an intelligent Author. Nor would the argument be invalidated if, in some instances, we did not know, or could not discover, the final cause; for the mere collocation of parts, and their dependence upon and relation to each other, would be sufficient to convince us that some end must have been intended: as, in the instance of the watch, even were we ignorant of its object, the analogy between its construction and that of other productions of human art, of which we do know the design, would lead us to place the instrument under the same category. For is it to be supposed that the parts could have arranged themselves by chance? Even ancient philosophy, in its better schools, could not entertain the supposition. Or shall we say that the material world may “contain the source or spring of order originally within itself, as well as mind does”? But abstract possibilities are one thing, inferences forced upon us by experience another; and the only experience we have in the matter, and therefore to us the only analogy to reason from, is that adaptations of means to ends never occur apart from the agency of intelligent Personality, either our own or that of others. We are therefore entitled to infer this agency whenever we meet with a corresponding fact, in the productions of nature as well as those of art, notwithstanding circumstantial differences which may exist between them. Whether we had ever seen a watch made or not, or known of the existence of such an instrument or not, the mere inspection of its structure would be sufficient to raise a presumption of a designer who had some end in view, and framed this means accordingly.
The advance of science not only furnishes continually fresh materials for this argument, but at the same time discloses a prevailing principle of uniformity, and adapted relations as well as parts, throughout nature, so that the hypothesis of discordant wills having been concerned in the cosmical arrangements may be considered as finally abandoned by philosophy itself. There are no notes of discord in the effect, and therefore not in the agency from which it has proceeded. But it may be questioned whether this argument is really a distinct one from the former, and not rather a particular application of it – that is, of the axiom that every effect must have a cause. The difference seems to be that here it is not the effect as a whole, but the marks of design in it that is the object of thought, which, like everything else, must have had a cause. This cause, from the nature of the case, can be neither a blind necessity, nor even Mind merely as involving the idea of power, but mind as involving the idea of intelligence. And thus it supplements the inherent deficiency of the cosmological argument, which merely leads to the belief of a first cause. This might be conceived of as a blind force, a natura naturans; but the idea of intelligence cannot be separated from the doctrine of final causes, they and a designing mind being correlative terms. It has been objected by a great metaphysician that since the argument from final, like that from efficient, causes rests on experience, and we have never been present at the formation of a world, our own being to us a solitary instance, or “singular effect,” we are not warranted in inferring from the marks of design in it the existence of a designing mind. But is there not a confusion here between the origin and the constitution of the world? It is not to the creation of matter out of nothing, or to the rudis indigestaque moles of chaos, that the argument so much applies, as to the adaptation of means to ends in the existing frame of nature, with which we are personally acquainted. It may be difficult to establish the fact that the universe had a Creator, for certainly we have had no experience of creations; and yet it may be easy to discover in the arrangements of our universe, or one part of it, such a multiplicity of contrivances as to convince us that mere matter could not have produced them. Moreover, the experience from which we derive the idea of final causes is, like that which gives us the idea of an efficient cause, in ourselves, and not in the physical operations of nature. When we see a watch in process of construction, all that sense tells us is that the work is proceeding from a curious arrangement of bones, muscles, sinews, etc.; the intelligence which presides over it remains unseen. That intelligence is presiding over it we infer from the knowledge that such an instrument could not be produced by ourselves without the exercise of a designing mind; and by analogy we transfer the same to the watchmaker. It is only a more extended application of the reasoning when from the observation of the marvelous contrivances which the whole of nature, so far as it comes under our knowledge, exhibits, we ascend to the conception of a presiding Mind which framed them for ends, whether we can at present discern those ends or not. With respect to this last difficulty, it may be remarked that some of the greatest discoveries in science have been made in reasoning from means to unknown ends; as, e.g., the circulation of the blood, which Harvey arrived at by asking himself what could be the design of the valves which so plentifully occur in the veins of the body. Here the final cause was unknown; being discovered, it threw light upon the contrivance. – As to the hypothesis that the complex structures of the world may be accounted for on the principle of the “survival of the fittest”; the animal, e.g., in its efforts to see, throwing out at first the mere rudiments of an eye, and these, in the lapse of ages, improving themselves into the perfect organ; it seems hardly necessary to dwell upon it. The ingenious author can hardly have seriously intended it as an argument against final causes. [For even if we admit that the primitive germ, or protoplasm, was endowed with instinctive tendencies, we must still ask two questions: 1. Whence did these tendencies proceed? Were they self-caused? If so, the principle of causation itself, on which science rests, is annihilated. 2. How came the environments, the correlation of the instinctive tendencies, and the condition of their successful result, into existence?] Certainly it has nothing to recommend it, on the score of simplicity, in preference to that of an intelligent Creator. – Nor is the validity of the argument impaired by there being some things in nature of which perhaps we shall never discover the end intended, as, e.g., the use of barren deserts, venomous reptiles, fierce wild beasts, or the existence of evil. [Jowett, Essay on Nat. Rel.] To such instances Paley’s remark is applicable: “These superfluous parts do not negative the reasoning which we instituted concerning those parts which are useful, and of which we know the use ; the indication of contrivance with respect to these remains the same as it was before.” [Nat. Theol., c. 5.]
§ 9. Ontological
The first to propound this argument distinctly was Anselm of Canterbury. His reasoning is as follows: We have a conception in our minds of an all-perfect Being; but if this Being does not actually exist, we might add existence to our previous conception of Him, which, therefore, would be proved not to be the conception of an all-perfect Being; for to such a conception nothing can be added. Such a conception, therefore, necessarily involves actual existence. [“Convincitur etiam insipiens esse vel in intellectu aliquid quo nihil majus cogitari potest: et certe id quo majus cogitari nequit non potest esse in intellectu solo. Si enim vel in solo intellectu est, potest cogitari esse et in re; quod majus est. Existit ergo procul dubio aliquid, quo majus cogitari non valet, et in intellectu, et in re” (Proslog., c. ii).] It afterwards became particularly associated with the name of Descartes, who devoted the fifth of his celebrated “Meditations” to the discussion of it. “Actual existence,” he argues, “can no more be separated from the essence of God than the equality of its three angles to two right angles from the essence of a triangle; or the idea of a valley from that of a mountain. It is as certain that I find in myself the idea of an all-perfect Being as I do that of any mathematical figure or number; and I have no less clear a conception that an actual and eternal existence belongs to His nature than I have of the properties which I can demonstrate to belong to such a figure or number. For to such a Being no perfection can be wanting, which would be the case if He did not possess existence.” [Medit. v.] Kant’s refutation of the argument is, on purely logical grounds, unanswerable. As long as we entertain the conception of a triangle, he remarks, it would be a contradiction to suppose its angles not equal to two right angles; but there is no contradiction in supposing such a figure not to exist at all. Remove the subject as well as the predicate, or predicates, and nothing at all remains. That a figure containing three angles should necessarily exist can never be proved; on the supposition that a triangle exists, no doubt it must have three angles, but with the disappearance of the supposition the angles also disappear. So it is with the conception of an absolutely necessary Being. That God is almighty is a necessary judgment; and the predicate cannot be removed as long as the subject God, i.e., an all-perfect Being, is in the mind; but that there is no God involves no contradiction. Moreover, existence is not a predicate which adds anything to our previous conception of a thing. A hundred actual dollars contain nothing more in the idea than a hundred imaginary dollars, though there is a great difference between them as regards a man’s available resources. Whatever, then, our notion of an object may contain or involve, we must go out of it in order to predicate existence of the object. [Kritik der R. V. Kirchmann’s edit. p. 476.]
There seems, in fact, to lurk an ambiguity in Descartes’ use of the expression, necessary existence. It may mean either that the adequate conception of a thing involves necessary existence, or that the thing of necessity actually exists. In the former sense it is true that no adequate conception of God, i.e., of an all-perfect Being, can be formed which does not contain, as part of the conception, existence a se, or necessary existence; but does this involve the necessity of such a Being actually existing? As long as I frame to myself the conception of a winged horse, the wings are an essential part of it; but I am not entitled thence to infer that such an animal actually exists. As an intuition, however, of the human mind, the argument may hold its place. If I, an imperfect being, exist, how can I conceive an all-perfect Being as non-existent? Every attempt to do so will prove abortive. If I exist, and am not God, and yet have an idea of God, which I have, I cannot think and therefore be convinced of my own existence (cogito, ergo sum) without believing that God exists; and if He exists, He must exist necessarily. The ontological argument is only a mode of stating the fact that belief in the existence of God is a necessity of the practical reason. [Descartes, in Medit. iii., gives another turn to the argument; viz., that the idea of an all-perfect Being could not have originated with ourselves, but must have been implanted in us; and, on the principle “nihil in effectu quod non prius in causa,” by an all-perfect Being.]
It is obvious that if, as some modern philosophers have maintained, [E.g., Mansel, “Bampton Lectures.”] we can form no true, albeit inadequate, conception of God, the very basis of the argument is cut away from under it. For it proceeds on the assumption that such a conception is innate, though it may be dormant; that it exists previously to the observation of material objects, and is not derived from the mere multiplication of created perfections; and that it is not, as an original intuition, affected by the logical contradictions which, no doubt, beset every attempt to reduce the ideas of the Absolute and the Infinite to consistency with the laws of the human understanding.
§ 10. The Moral Nature of Man
The moral law within us seems to point to a Lawgiver. For this law is not merely a passive faculty of discriminating between right and wrong, but speaks with authority, commanding us to choose the right and avoid the wrong, and acquitting or condemning accordingly (Rom. 1:15). The voice of conscience is, in fact, the voice of God; if not speaking directly [See Delitzsch, “Psychology,” iii. s. 4 (Clark).] through it, yet indirectly, inasmuch as this wondrous faculty must have been implanted in the heart of man by the Creator. Nor is the inference invalidated by the erroneous judgments which an uncultivated conscience may deliver; for still what it commands it conceives to be right; it commands nothing as wrong, though it may err in the practical application. The evidence from the moral constitution of man bears rather on the character than on the mere existence of God; and perhaps it is going too far to say that the “categorical imperative” [Kant, Kritik der R. V.] of conscience necessarily implies a Lawgiver. The obligations of morality, we are reminded, [Mill, “Essay on Theism.”] need no other support than themselves: they are eternal and immutable. But the question relates not to the nature or obligation, but to the origin of the moral sense. Whence comes it? As the intuitions of the infinite and the eternal seem to imply an infinite Being from whom they proceed, so the existence of conscience seems to point to a righteous Lawgiver, the Author of the faculty.
§ 11. Consent of Mankind
This is a favourite topic with writers on the subject, and is useful, not so much in proving the existence of a God, as in proving that such a belief is the common inheritance of the race. [“Ut porro firmissimum hoc afferri videtur, cur Deos esse credamus, quoo nulla gens tam fera, nemo omnium tam sit immanis, cujus mentem non imbuerit deorum opinio. Multi de Diis prava sentiunt (id enim vitioso more effici solet), omnes tamen vim et naturam divinam arbitrantur; nec vero id collocatio hominum aut consensus efficit, non institutis opinio est confirmata, non legibus; omni autem in re consensio omnium gentium lex naturae putanda est” (Cic. Tusc. lib. i. c. 53. Comp. De N. D. i. 16, De Leg. i. 8).] Hardly any nation, or tribe, however barbarous, but acknowledges a superior Power: the apparent exceptions are not such, when examined more closely. How is the fact to be accounted for? A primitive revelation presupposes a Revealer: an innate idea presupposes an Author. The universality of the belief guarantees the truth of it; not, indeed, in Descartes’ sense, but as proving it to be a common intellectual judgment. A question arises, Has this common belief become impaired in the progress of civilization, so that we may describe it as the special characteristic of a rude age? The contrary is notoriously the fact. The nations of Western Europe are theistic no less than the savage tribes to whom Cicero appealed. Nay, their theism has become more concrete, more personal, than that of ancient philosophy itself. The Gods of heathenism were personal, not so its abstract Divinity, the το θειου, or in a more concrete form the Dii Deaeque omnes: but the manifest testimony of human belief, in modern times, has been toward investing this supreme object of worship with the attribute of intelligent Personality. And whereas the Deity of the Jewish Revelation is more anthropomorphous (not in an erroneous sense) than the corresponding conception of heathenism the Deity of Christianity exhibits an advance, in this point, upon the Jewish, for in the Gospel, “the Word” Himself “became flesh, and dwelt among us” ( John 1:14). Against the atheistic argument that religion owes its origin to the policy of legislators availing themselves of a popular error to gain authority for their institutions, [Cudworth, J. S. c. v. s. 1.] this consensus gentium may be urged with great force; for, if the theory were true, the belief in a superior power would be found only in communities which enjoy the benefits of legislation, whereas it is found, in some form or another, in the most uncivilized tribes.
The following remarks may be made on these proofs in general. Neither singly nor collectively do they amount to a “Demonstration a priori” [See Clarke’s Work.] of the existence of God, much less of His attributes. No fact is capable of demonstration in the strict sense of the word, so that the denial of it shall involve a contradiction; and neither is this one. Mathematical deductions are demonstrations and necessary truths because they are concerned not with facts but with abstractions, or mental pictures of our own minds. What is the triangle the three angles of which can be demonstrated to be equal to two right angles? No such figure exists actually in nature. We cannot draw a line on paper which shall have length without breadth, or which shall lie evenly between its extreme points; that is, the demonstration is not true of any actually existing triangle. It is the ideal triangle, formed by abstraction from the actual, on which we reason. Euclid is obliged to postulate, or make a condition of his reasoning, that a straight line may be drawn from one point to another, which yet is practically impossible: but the postulate once granted, all the properties of a trilateral figure bounded by such mathematical lines are necessary truths. It will be seen that none of the proofs for the existence of God partake of this character. They root themselves in experience, and though they rest ultimately on certain intuitions of the mind, they never can free themselves from the imperfections of their origin. The first step in the argument is, that something must have existed from eternity, for an intuition of reason tells us that from nothing, nothing can come, and so far it is of an a priori character; that is, the intuition is part of our mental constitution, and begins to operate directly we perceive that something exists. But whether this something is God or the world the intuition does not decide. There is no contradiction in supposing that the eternity of existence may belong to the world itself, and not to a Being independent of it; which accordingly was held by many philosophers. An intuition of reason tells us that if the world is an effect, it must have had a cause, but not whether it is an effect or not. That it is so can only be argued from observation of facts, and depends, therefore, on probable reasoning. Similarly it is evident that whatever has existed from eternity must have the reason of its existence in itself, or necessary existence; but that the world may not possess this property cannot be demonstrated a priori. There are strong reasons for thinking that the world is an effect, and therefore must have had a cause, and therefore is not self-existent; but the δός που στω is wanting for demonstrative or a priori reasoning on the subject. That the first Cause possesses intelligence, and that He is a righteous Lawgiver, are obviously conclusions founded on an observation of facts, in the external world, and in ourselves; and therefore are a posteriori. The argument therefore falls short of apodeictic cogency, which accounts for the degraded notions entertained of the Divine Being by large portions of mankind, and, as travelers affirm, even the absence of the idea of God in some particularly uncivilized tribes. We may not “like to retain God in our knowledge” (Rom. 1:28), and the natural result may be anticipated; for we are not compelled by a necessity of reason to believe in Him, much less in the God of revelation. The evidence is only probable, but probable evidence is the usual, and the sufficient, guide of life. [Butler, Anal. Introd.] It may be added, that to us Christians, faith, grounded on the revelation of God in the Scriptures, furnishes the δός που στω which the natural argument fails to do. The natural argument is rather the confirmation than the foundation of our belief.
The proper light in which these proofs are to be regarded is that of furnishing materials from which the imperfect consciousness of a superior Power, whether or not derived from revelation, is developed into more adequate conceptions, and attains a definite shape. [See Martensen’s remarks on these proofs, Dog. ss. 38–43.] “The innate idea of God,” says Jacobi, “resembles a mute consonant, which can only be sounded in combination with a vowel,” viz., creation (πα ποιήματα, Rom. 1:20), including man and his moral nature. The faculty is there, but it is only potential until the reflective powers are directed to it. Sometimes this process never takes place, and then generations remain sunk in Fetishism, or the lower forms of idolatry. In more happily endowed races a few superior minds emancipate themselves from the grosser conceptions of the popular superstition, and from them the improvement descends until, in a greater or less degree, it permeates the mass. The conjunction of the two factors, human reason and the visible creation, being thus effected, the result is, sooner or later, a γνωστον του θεου (Rom. 1:19), not merely the belief of a God, but this belief purged from the taint of idolatry, which the Apostle describes as unnatural, and as the penal consequence of inattention to the lessons to be derived from creation (Rom. 1:21). [The book of Wisdom contains striking examples of this purifying process (see cc. 13–15), in which the philosophic minds of later Judaism had the prophets as forerunners (see the latter part of Isaiah throughout).]
Further, the force of the evidence lies not in any one branch of it singly, but in the combination of all the branches. Inert matter could hardly suggest the idea of an intelligent, and the contrivances of nature hardly that of a righteous, Creator; in conjunction with each other, and with the evidence from the moral nature of man, they produce their full effect. This, indeed, is a feature of the evidences of Christianity itself; each of which singly possesses some force, but collectively a much greater one. It is to be observed, moreover, that these proofs, while rendering the existence of a God probable, at the same time, to some extent, make known what He is.
§ 12. B. The Nature of God – Infinity
Although the conclusion of Simonides, when he was requested to give a definition of God, [“Roges me, quid aut quale sit Deus, auctore utar Simonide: de quo quum quaesiverit hoc idem tyrannus Hiero, deliberandi causa sibi unum diem postulavit. Cum idem ex eo postridie quaereret, biduum petivit. Cum saepius duplicaret numerum dierum, admiransque Hiero requireret, cur ita faceret, Quia quanto, inquit, diutius considero, tanto mihi res videtur obscurior” (Cic. De N. D. c. 22).] must ever be substantially that of a finite understanding, it must not be supposed that His nature is absolutely incomprehensible; otherwise it is difficult to see how He could be an object either of thought or worship. That no logical definition of God is possible, is evident: for such a definition would consist of a genus and a difference; but neither is in this case conceivable: not the former, for there is no common notion or category between God and the creature, under which He can be brought; not the latter, for in God no such distinction as genus and difference exists. Even the highest category, substance, is predicable of God in quite a different sense from that which it bears in ordinary language. But can that inferior kind of definition called “description” be applied to Him? Theologians usually hold that it can; but only in a limited measure, corresponding to the imperfection of our ideas on the subject. They tell us, that whereas the natural knowledge of God, which is partly innate and partly acquired (from the works of creation), is extremely imperfect (languida et poene nulla), and inadequate to meet the wants of fallen man; and even under the light of Revelation we only know so much as our limited faculties can receive; yet our knowledge is only inadequate, not untrue as far as it extends: we do not worship the “unknown God” of the Athenians (Acts 17:23). [Gerhard, loc. iii. c. 3. Comp. c. 1: “Ergo est aliquod nomen Dei absconditum, et occultum, quod scrutari non licet: est etiam aliquod nomen Dei patefactum, quod vult agnosci, narrari, celebrari, et invocari.”] They appeal, in proof, to Holy Scripture, which teaches that while “no man hath seen God” (in His proper Being) “at any time” (not even Moses, the most favoured of His servants, Exod. 33:20), yet “the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father hath declared Him” (John 1:18); that while we are far from seeing “face to face,” or knowing as we are known, yet “we see through a glass darkly,” and “know in part” (1 Cor. 13:12): that while God dwells “in the light which no man can approach to” (1 Tim. 6:16), and the Spirit of God alone “knows the things of God” fully and perfectly, yet we, having “the mind of Christ,” are admitted to a measure of this knowledge (1 Cor. 2:10–16). They remind us that if the only approach to a formal definition to be found in Scripture is the tautology “I am what I am” (Exod. 3:14; Isa. 43:13), yet what is important for us to know is conveyed in the statements that “God is Spirit” (John 4:24), and “God is Love” [J. Gerh. loc. iii. c. 8. s. 70.] (1 John 4:8).
We have now to ask, Does Philosophy teach us anything on the subject? Reverting to the proofs of the existence of a God, we are met by a difficulty, viz., that none of them seems necessarily to lead to more than the conception of a limited Deity. That the Author of the universe must have been a Being of vast power, wisdom and goodness, may be admitted as at least highly probable; the great difficulty of the existence of evil, moral and physical, being explained on the supposition either of the refractoriness of matter, or of an Evil Being counteracting the designs of his adversary. But since the effect is not infinite, why need we suppose an infinite cause? Why assume a Deity of unlimited attributes to produce limited results? Whence, in short, do we derive the ideas of the Infinite and the Absolute as connected with the idea of God, which yet we do spontaneously connect with Him? It must be confessed that here the argument a posteriori fails us. [A defect admitted by Clarke (Ans. to seventh Letter) – “The finite phenomena of nature prove indeed demonstrably a posteriori that there is a Being which has extent of power and wisdom sufficient to produce and preserve all these phenomena. But that this Author of nature is Himself absolutely immense or infinite cannot be proved from these finite phenomena, but must be demonstrated from the intrinsic nature of necessary existence.” Whatever may be thought of this latter “demonstration,” the preceding remark holds good.] Even the oneness, or rather “Oneliness” [“Μόνωσις, unity, oneliness, or singularity, is essential to it” – the idea of God (Cudworth, c. iv. s. 10).] of God cannot be thus inferred. There can of course be but One infinite Being; but there is nothing contradictory in the supposition of a number of limited deities having been concerned in the production of the world, provided we also suppose them to have been actuated by accordant wills.
Attempts have been made, with various success, to supply this defect. A traditionary method, derived from the scholastic writers, of arriving at an idea of the Divine perfections consists in three processes of thought: Via eminentiae, by which we ascribe to God all the perfections which we discover in the creature, only in a superlative sense (sensu eminentissimo); via remotionis, or negationis, by which we separate from the idea of Him the imperfections that belong to the creature; via causalitatis, by which whatever perfections we observe in the works of God we ascribe to Him as their cause, on the principle that the cause must contain at least as much as the effect. But the objection still recurs, that by none of these methods do we gain the idea of absolute perfection; they are a posteriori methods, and the chasm between the Finite and the Infinite remains unbridged over. Others argue from necessity to perfection, that a self-existing Being must be Infinite, but hardly with success. [See Clarke, Prop. 6.] For, in truth, limitation of essence is not necessarily inconsistent with necessity of Being [Kant, Kritik der R. V. b. ii. c. 3, s. 3.]; at least we cannot, on merely logical grounds, pronounce it to be so. Infinity may be a condition of self-existence, or rather the most suitable idea we can connect with it, and yet it does not follow that the thing conditioned may not exist without it; as, in the hypothetical judgment, if rain falls the grass will grow, the failure of the antecedent does not involve that of the consequent, for the grass may grow even if the rain does not fall. It seems, then, that we must attempt another path; and perhaps it will be indicated if we consider that all discussions respecting the Absolute or the Infinite presuppose some idea thereof in our minds to which we tacitly refer, for we cannot be supposed to reason about a nonentity. Not an adequate conception, for the forms of logical thought are inapplicable to this subject, and we become involved in contradictions when we attempt definitions; but an idea, or immanent intuition of reason. We advance via eminentiae to the utmost limits of analogical reasoning; but we are conscious of something beyond, fathomless and immeasurable, in the nature of God. “We know,” says Pascal, “that there is an Infinite, though we are ignorant of its nature.” And this something does not, in transcending the conceptions of the understanding, become to us a mere blank, a yawning chasm, “without form and void”; the created perfections which have been our prompters and our guides all along, project their shadow on the boundless bosom of the Infinite. We still anthropomorphize, as we must do if we are to reason about Deity at all; and thus Infinity becomes identical with absolute perfection, and when we speak of a God of “infinite,” we mean a God of perfect wisdom, power, and goodness. [The late Dean Mansel may perhaps be thus reconciled with his opponents. It could hardly have been the learned writer’s intention (in his Bampton Lectures), to maintain that the infinite and the absolute, as applied to Deity, in other words the infinite perfections of God, are to us mere nothings, or wholly incomprehensible. But he has given occasion to objections, not altogether unfounded, against his theory by insisting too exclusively on the negative as compared with the positive notion of infinity, and by omitting to explain why it is, that while unable to conceive it, we yet must believe that this notion exists. Moreover it is not “the infinite” in the abstract, but the “infinite God” that we are reasoning about.] Let us hear Cudworth on the subject: “Since infinite is the same as absolutely perfect, we having a notion or idea of the latter, must needs have of the former. From whence we learn also that though the word ‘Infinite’ be in the form negative, yet is the sense of it, in those things which are really capable of the same, positive, it being all one with ‘absolutely perfect’; as likewise the sense of the word ‘finite’ is negative, it being the same with ‘imperfect’.” [Int. Syst. c. v.] It is, in fact, through not giving sufficient prominence to the positive element in our idea of Infinity that some modern philosophers of great name have failed to assign its due force to the theistic argument. [E.g., Sir W. Hamilton, Discussions, etc.; McCosh, Div. Gov. App. i.] Etymologically the word “Infinite” expresses a negation, that which is not limited; but philosophically it expresses an affirmation, however indistinctly the object may be apprehended; and it is in the latter sense that it denotes that element in the Divine nature which no mere a posteriori argument can supply. The idea of it is something more than that which we have of perfections vastly transcending our own, and something less than the immediate knowledge of Deity to which the ancient Mystics pretended; it is one of those indistinct ideas which we accept as a whole (intuitively), but are baffled when we attempt to reconcile its conflicting elements. The conclusion of the whole is that while God Himself alone knows what God is (1 Cor. 2:11), man, by a combination of the intuitional and reflective faculties, knows too, but only in part; that partial knowledge, however, not being a mere creation of the intellect, but having correspondent realities in the Divine essence. And with this accords the language of Scripture, which refers us, for such knowledge of God as we can attain to, not to the understanding, but to faith, the intuitional organ of spiritual apprehension (1 Cor. 13:12; Heb. 11:3, 6).
That there can be only one subject of these infinite perfections – one not merely in purpose but in essence – is evident; and further, that such a Being can have no “parts,” divisibility into parts, which implies limitation, being inconsistent with the notion of infinity.
The arguments from marks of design, and from the moral sense, particularly point to the personality of God; but this has by modern philosophers been thought to involve great difficulties. How can the Absolute and the Infinite be conceived as a Person? Personality, in the ordinary sense, involves relation and limitation: a person is related to another, as not being that other, and for the same reason is limited. That the word Person admits of modified senses is seen from its use in describing the relations of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity to each other, relations which are never supposed to be inconsistent with the infinity of each; but on the immediate question before us, has not personality been confounded with individuality? An individual must be limited, but God is never represented in Scripture as an Individual. “God,” we read, “is” not a Spirit, but “Spirit,” i.e., the most perfect embodiment of intelligence and freedom; as He is “Love,” the most perfect embodiment of goodness. To have created other spirits, possessing a relative freedom and independence, is not to have abdicated His own essential qualities; in Him we still live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28); He is still the “Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9); it is a self-limitation, not a necessary one, that He has clothed Himself in to come down to our apprehension; and though we must conceive of Him as possessing Personality, it is neither necessary nor correct to conceive of Him as a Person, in the sense in which each of us is. The difficulty arises, as it does also in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, from our attaching to Personality the only conception we can form of it, viz., that derived from our own consciousness, which is always that of a limited nature: the conception may be true, but it is imperfect, and must not, any more than in the doctrine of the Trinity, be pushed to its consequences if we would avoid error. When we can understand what is involved in the title I AM (Exod. 2:14), we can also understand what is meant by the Personality of God.
C. – Attributes of God
§ 13. Origin and Divisions
The infinite nature of God does not, in fact, present itself to the mind as a single idea, but as an assemblage of properties or qualities, to each of which the idea of infinity is attached. The different wants of which we are conscious, as limited, or sinful, beings; the different circumstances in which we are placed; the different points of view from which creation may be regarded; modify the aspects under which we represent to ourselves the one living and true God, and thus give rise to the doctrine of the Divine attributes. In conceiving God as the infinitely wise, good, powerful, etc., we confine our attention, in each case, to one aspect of the Divine essence we take a partial view of it suggested by existing circumstances; and because a partial, necessarily an imperfect one; but such a view as alone is of any religious value. There is no food for faith in the abstract ideas of the Infinite and the Absolute. How this Infinite Being is affected, what the relations He sustains, towards us, are the points with which we are practically concerned; a God of attributes can alone be the object of worship. That this is the true origin of these conceptions, and that they are not logical deductions from one or more determinations of His essence, is evident as well from our own experience as from the representations of Scripture; of which those portions which most abound in references to the Divine attributes, e.g., the Psalms, the Book of Job, and the latter part of Isaiah, are also those in which the varying phases of religious experience occupy a prominent place.
But the question may be asked, How come we to connect definite ideas with these Scriptural designations of the Divine Being? The methods above mentioned (via eminentiae, etc.) teach us how to use the materials once supplied, but do not supply them. The answer is, that it is from human qualities we take our departure in framing predicates of God. Since revelation is conveyed in human language, it must either be unintelligible or avail itself of the innate notions and moral perceptions of the human subject; it must speak to us in our own tongue wherein we were born. [Hampden, Phil. Evid. of Christianity, p. 23.] That is to say, in framing conceptions of God, we necessarily reason from the most perfect subject of which we are cognizant, the reasonable creature, and assign in an eminent, it may be inconceivable, sense to Him what we find in the creature. In so doing, a twofold caution is to be observed: one that we do not suppose the Divine attributes to be identical with the corresponding qualities in the creature. It is an axiom of theology that the attributes of God are not separable from His essence, as in the case of a man his virtue, or his wisdom, is separable from his rational nature; and therefore they partake of the incomprehensibility of His nature. When we pass from our most perfect notions of human wisdom or justice to God, we exchange, in the language of mathematics, continuous motion for motion per saltum: we confess the inadequacy of human thought to understand, and human language to express, the corresponding realities in the Divine nature: these form a different species from the former. But the other caution is no less needed; that we do not treat these predicates as arbitrary conceptions, which have no meaning when applied to God. For our flight over the chasm continues in the direction which it held when parting from the finite; neither in a reverse nor a divergent one. As the schoolmen state it, these distinctions are not those rationis ratiocinantis, merely conceptions of our minds, but rationis ratiocinate, having a real basis of fact: there is something in the Divine nature actually corresponding to them: they are analogically true, however inadequate. God is not righteous merely because He acts as a righteous man would act ; nor, again, merely because He is the source of righteousness in us: but He acts righteously because it belongs to His nature to do so (ουσιωδως). He cannot be supposed as misleading His creatures when, in the language of inspiration, He describes Himself as just or merciful: His creatures, who have no means of understanding these terms, except such as their own minds furnish. This is no point of merely speculative interest. A blind force, a mere natura naturans, a system of natural laws’ working invariably and remorselessly, can never call forth the sentiments which Scripture encourages us to entertain towards God; in such a rarefied atmosphere all that is vital in religion perishes; love expires, prayer becomes a mockery. He who knows what is in man gives us better lessons when He authorizes us to reason from analogy to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and tells us that if “ye being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” (Matt. 7:11). “If this,” says Twesten, “is Anthropomorphism, it is a natural and a necessary Anthropomorphism. For if we are formed in the image of God, why should we not from the image reason to the Original? Was He not in our likeness who could say, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father?” ( John 14:9).
Many divisions of the Divine attributes have been proposed which aim at an exhaustive analysis, but with indifferent success. Sometimes the distinction is not observed between the attributes and the nature of God, and sometimes the divisions run into each other. They have been classified under the heads of absolute and relative, negative and positive, proper and improper, abstract and concrete, quiescent and active; the first and the last conveying the same idea, and furnishing the only generic division under which the others can be arranged. The absolute attributes are those which we conceive as existing in God in and by Himself, the relative those which express the relations in which He stands to the creature; the former may be termed quiescent (immanentia), the latter active (transeuntia); in the former the distinction, in the latter the connection, between God and the world is more prominent. But if the origin of our conception of attributes has been correctly assigned, many of the so-called absolute attributes hardly come under the description; they either belong to the Divine essence, or are immediate deductions from our idea of it. Such are “living and true”; infinity in its twin forms eternity and immensity; simplicity and unchangeableness, which follow from unconditioned existence; blessedness (beatitudo), which is implied in absolute independence. Sometimes they reappear under the form of relative attributes; as, e.g., under a certain aspect immensity becomes omnipresence. To the relative attributes then we may confine our attention.
§ 14. Omnipresence
The immensity of God, considered in relation to space as a condition of creation, assumes the name of Omnipresence. For there are two ideas involved in this attribute, not separable in fact, but mentally – the Divine immensity in virtue of which God never can be absent from any of His works (Dei adessentia) and the Divine causality in virtue of which He is actively operative in all His works. These ideas are not separable in fact, for the attributes and the essence of God are one: wherever He is, there He acts; and wherever He acts, there He is: but under the former, Omnipresence is regarded as a quiescent and absolute attribute, involving no considerations of space (in fact out of it); under the latter as a relative one, having reference to existing things, and in immediate connection with them. For we can no more dissever God from the world, since “in Him we live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28), than we can identify Him with it. But if we are not to think of Him merely as an omnipresent spectator, the connection can be no other than that of an omnipotent agent, sustaining, guiding, impelling the course of nature. The rest of God from His works is a perpetual activity (John 5:17). And the dogmatical import of this attribute is to guard against the deistical notion that God, having once communicated to matter its forces and laws, has retired into a state of repose, leaving these laws to their regular and immutable operation; as an engineer, having set his machine in motion, withdraws from personal interference with it. The language of Scripture, of religion, and even of true philosophy is at variance with this notion. If in the thunder the Psalmist hears “the voice of the Lord” (Ps. 29:3); if it is He that makes “darkness and it is night” (Ps. 104:20), and gives to all creatures “their meat in due season” (ibid. verse 27), this language is sanctioned by the spontaneous utterance of piety; as, e.g., when a nation, grateful for deliverance from a threatened invasion, stops not, in commemorating the event, at the laws of nature established by God, but ascends to their Author – “Deus afflavit et dissipati sunt.” Nor does a sound philosophy lead to a different conclusion, for to an all-perfect Being we cannot ascribe a state of otium cum dignitate. But do we not thus annihilate the relative independence of secondary causes, and give countenance to the theory of Descartes and his followers, that God is the Direct Agent in all that happens, the properties of matter only furnishing the occasions on which He exercises His power? Nor if we bear in mind that these secondary causes are themselves dependent on God, who at the first established them, and defined their mode of working. If in His wisdom He has chosen to limit Himself to work in and through the laws of nature, it is not the less He who does the work. It is, however, the fact that nature appears to have a life of its own, and to act independently; and this difficulty especially meets us when under the term “nature” we comprise free intelligences; the difficulty, viz., how finite beings, free to stand or fall, can coexist with an infinite Spirit who created, and is ever present with them. Both as regards the material and the moral world, it arises from the inability of those whose conceptions are bounded by time and space to comprehend the nature of a Being who is unconfined by those limits. Hence theology takes refuge in antinomies, or apparent contradictions: God is everywhere, God is nowhere; He is not so much everywhere as He is that very thing which we call everywhere; He is in every place, and yet is not contained in any place (illocalis prosentia). “It is more proper,” says Augustine, “to say that all things are in Him, than that He is anywhere, and yet they are not in Him as in a place”; all which statements amount substantially to Chrysostom’s confession, “That God is everywhere we know and profess; but how He is so we do not understand.”
Is God everywhere present in the same manner? It can hardly be a matter of words when we distinguish between that presence of His which belongs to creation generally (praesentia generalis); that by which He dwells in the regenerate (John 14:23, praesentia specialis); and that on which the union of God and man in the person of Christ is founded (Col. 2:9). Nor can we consider the distinctions as merely of degree, and not of kind, or specific; as if, e.g., the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the regenerate is nothing but the general presence in a certain stage of intensity. Schleiermacher’s remark, however, deserves notice: “Properly understood, there is no difference in the Almighty presence of God, but only in the receptivity of the creature, which is greater in man than in any other created being, and greatest of all in the pious.” The question whether the Divine essence, or the Divine operation, i.e., whether God Himself, or merely the virtue that proceeds from Him, is to be considered in proximity to the creature – at one time much debated – can hardly be entertained by those who hold that wherever God works there He is, and must be, in all the fullness of His Being; yet possesses a measure of importance in reference to the crude notions of the Socinians, who maintained that God, in His essential Being, is only in heaven, all of Him that is present in creation being his attributes of Wisdom and Power.
But if the Omnipresence of God is not quiescent, but active and cooperative – and we cannot think otherwise than thus of it – we must take care to confine its cooperation to its proper objects. We cannot, e.g., conceive of God as actively cooperating with evil, the existence of which we feel too keenly, while we know that it could not exist without Divine permission. In what sense is God present (as in some sense He must be) to the minds and actions of evil men? This question will be more suitably considered in a following section. Nor, as has been observed, does it dispense with the operation of secondary causes, which are relatively independent; and if piety leads us to pray for the former, prudence forbids us to neglect the latter. We pray for recovery from sickness, and if restored to health ascribe it to God’s goodness; but we also avail ourselves of the resources of medicine, and ascribe our recovery to the skill of the physician. It is in the actually constituted course of nature, with its laws and forces, that Divine cooperation properly finds its place; according to the saying of Augustine, “God so manages all things which he created that He also permits them to exert their own energies.” We must, therefore, exclude it from creation strictly so-called, i.e., the beginning of all things, when no course of nature was in existence; and from the evangelical miracles of the creative type, viz., those on which Christianity is founded, the incarnation, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord. In the former, nature was passive ; in the latter, her existing laws were suspended. [Rather, were counteracted. – Ed.]
§ 15. Omnipotence
To whatever extent any notion, however debased, of a God exists, to the same extent power is found connected with it; power to avert evil, and bestow benefits; power to order and dispose, if not to create. But except in revealed religion this power appears limited and controlled; the inferior gods by Jupiter, Jupiter himself by Fate. In strong contrast therewith, the God of revelation is omnipotent. To have called the existing frame of nature into being conveys to our minds the idea of wonderful power; but Omnipotence comprises a further idea, that of power adequate to all possible or conceivable objects, e.g., a new frame of nature, should such seem good to the Divine wisdom: God has not exhausted all His resources in creating the existing universe. Hence the god of Pantheism is not, and cannot be omnipotent, as being identified with the sum-total of creation, and having his will fully embodied in its laws. “In scholastic phrase, the Divine power is infinite,” both extensive in respect to the range and scope, and intensive in respect to the mode and energy of its exercise; so that God, had it pleased Him, could have created a more perfect universe than He did. It is understood, of course, that the power of God does not extend either to what is contradictory in itself, that is, a nothing (as, e.g., to undo what has happened, or to make two and two five); or to what is contradictory to some other of His attributes, as to pardon sin without an atonement would be contrary to His justice; to refuse pardon to those who repent and believe on Christ would be contrary to His mercy. But this is not to introduce limitations into His nature, but to avoid doing so; for to suppose Him capable of undoing what has been done would be to suppose Him capable of rendering false what is true; and to suppose Him capable of acting against any of His attributes would be to connect with Him the idea of “passive power,” i.e., the power of being acted upon, whereas He is pure energy (actus purissimus), and to introduce division into that nature which is absolutely simple. Nor is Omnipotence inconsistent with God’s acting, sometimes independently of secondary causes (as in creation), and sometimes through them (as in healing a sick person); for in this latter case it is He Himself who has ordained the limiting condition: of His own will He has ordered it, that certain effects shall be produced, not by a direct exercise of His power, but instrumentally through other agents. But He could, at the first, have arranged it otherwise; and He can (as in miracles) exchange His ordinary mode of operation for another, if reasons exist for the change. His power can only become active through His will; and therefore if it is His will to act conditionally, His power can only act thus.
§ 16. Omniscience
From the union of omnipresence and infinite intelligence we infer the attribute of Omniscience. Nothing can escape His knowledge, to whom all things are present, and who perfectly understands them in all their relations. He knows the thoughts of the heart (Ps. 139); every “hidden thing of darkness” (1 Cor. 4:5); every want before it is expressed in prayer (Matt. 6:8); everything in the womb of the future (Acts 15:18); and, finally, He, and He alone knows Himself (1 Cor. 2:11). As regards this attribute, we must as with the others, separate from it (via remotionis) all imperfection, such as necessarily belongs to our knowledge: for example, the distinction of past, present, and future applies not to Him whose being is an eternal Now; God’s knowledge is not, as in man, a property annexed to His nature, but is His nature; it is not after the manner of deduction (discursive), nor succession (successive); not by means of ideas (species intelligibiles), but immediate (uno actu se ipso); it is not partial, but complete.
In the attempt to analyze the idea of Omniscience distinctions have been invented, which however add little to our comprehension of it: such as scientia simplicis intelligentiae, by which is meant the knowledge of everything possible, and scientia visionis, the knowledge of everything actual, God Himself included; scientia necessaria and scientia libera, etc. The mode of speaking is analogical what we can conceive (intelligentia) as contrasted with what we see (visio); what we call “natural” as belonging to God’s nature (therefore necessaria), as contrasted with the effects which flow from His will, and which seem more arbitrary; – these distinctions we, in whom nature and will are separable, transfer to God, in whom they are one. A distinction of some importance is attributed to the Jesuits, who made use of it in their contests with the Jansenists, viz., scientia media, or the knowledge of things which would have happened had certain conditions been fulfilled, which never were: as, e.g., God knew that David would be delivered into the hands of Saul if he remained in Keilah, where he did not remain (1 Sam. 23:12). So our Lord knew that had Tyre and Sidon seen His mighty works (which they did not see), they would have repented (Matt. 11:21).
The knowledge of God in respect of contingent actions, [Usually called “praescientia,” foreknowledge: not accurately, since past, present, and future have no meaning as applied to God.] those of free agents, is supposed to present peculiar difficulties. Cicero pronounces it inconceivable. And undoubtedly, when by “knowledge” we understand “will” or “decree,” it is not easy to understand how such knowledge and contingency can coexist. Under that aspect, however, it rather belongs to the topic of Divine providence (§ 21). But mere foreknowledge of an event is no more inconsistent with contingency than with necessity; for the nature of the event is not altered by it: our knowing that a contingent event has happened does not affect its contingency; neither, therefore, does our knowing (could we do so) that it will happen. Notwithstanding God’s foreknowledge, free agents act freely, and necessary agents necessarily; i.e., He has knowledge of free agents as such, and of necessary agents as such; or knows that each will act according to the laws which Himself has imposed upon them. Wisdom stands in the same relation to Omniscience as Immensity to Omnipresence; i.e., it is a quiescent or absolute attribute, or at least does not necessarily presuppose an actual creation. To “the only wise God” (1 Tim. 1:17) we ascribe especially the first planning of the universe, with its laws and forces, its adaptation of means to ends, its final attainment of the greatest good of which it is capable. Hence this attribute is closely connected with the theistic argument from final causes. But the “manifold wisdom” of God is especially revealed in the work of redemption, and the Church, even in its present militant state, is its highest embodiment (Ephes. 2:10).
§ 17. Goodness – Holiness – Righteousness – Mercy
These are what are called ethical, as distinguished from physical, attributes. The goodness of God may be understood in a twofold sense; either the essential goodness of His nature (“There is none good but one,” Matt. 19:17), or goodness in the sense of beneficence. As a relative attribute the latter is the sense which it bears. The earth teems with instances of God’s goodness. “It is a happy world after all.” The sportive movements of animals, the cheerful song of birds, the varied hues and fragrance of flowers (apparently serving no purpose but that of gratifying the senses), the pleasure attached to intellectual and even bodily exertion, all testify to the beneficence of the Creator. The existence of evil, it is true, lowers in the distance as a dark cloud, and is too important a subject not to demand special consideration. Meanwhile, thus much is evident: all the contrivances of nature have the wellbeing and happiness of the whole for their natural tendency if the aim is not attained, it is in spite of natural arrangements, and because they are thwarted by some antagonist power. “We never discover a train of contrivance to bring about an evil purpose.” If God had been indifferent to our happiness, He might have made, or permitted a rival Power to make, “everything we tasted bitter, everything we saw loathsome, everything we touched a sting, every smell a stench, and every sound a discord.”
Holiness. – The proper idea of this attribute is separation from what is unclean. God, as He has no taint of sin in Himself, cannot tolerate it in the creature. The absolute holiness of God fences His love round; and without the constant recollection of it, worship degenerates either into pantheistic rapture, or impure mysticism. Hence the common title, “The Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 1:4); hence the more closely man is permitted to approach the Divine Presence, the more is he reminded of his unfitness for it (ibid. 6:5). In general, in proportion as God becomes the God of history and revelation, mingles in human affairs, and assumes “a local habitation and a name” in the congregation of Israel, the assertions of His holiness become emphatic, so as to establish a strong line of demarcation between Him and the impure deities of heathenism. Nor is the lesson unneeded under the Gospel, as the prevalence of Antinomianism at some periods, and in some sects, too plainly proves.
Righteousness. – Righteousness, or justice, is in man the virtue which rewards according to merit, and which redresses the inequality produced by wrongdoing, i.e., inflicts punishment on the transgressor. Analogically, God is conceived of as righteous when He acts towards individuals as men would act under the circumstances. This attribute, then, is distinct from that of goodness, which embraces the whole creation, whereas this stands in special relation to beings endowed with personality and free will (angels and men), i.e., to their behaviour. That God is righteous, rather is righteousness itself, is declared not only in Scripture, but by the moral law in man, and by the moral government of the world; the tendency of the latter, however, occasionally thwarted, being plainly in favour of virtue. On the whole, virtue brings its own reward, while sin ends in, and is, misery. It must be confessed, indeed, that the traces of this attribute are not so clearly visible in creation as those of some others – wisdom, for example, or power; in fact, what are called “the inequalities of life,” have furnished matter of objection to the unbeliever, and of perplexity sometimes to the Christian. The frequent failure of merit to achieve the success due to it; the calamities which often overwhelm the righteous while the wicked enjoy prosperity (Ps. 73); the apparent abortiveness of elaborate preparations for usefulness through the premature stroke of death – these are some of the difficulties which meet the inquirer, and form, in fact, a strong argument for a future state, where such inequalities will be rectified, and the righteousness of God vindicated. At present we walk by faith, not by sight; content with the assurance that however perplexing appearances may be, the Judge of all the earth will eventually justify His ways (Gen. 18:25). But, it may be asked, has not this doctrine of retributory justice, especially under the aspect of reward (Heb. 6:10), a tendency to impair the Christian sentiment of humility? Not if we bear in mind that both the will and the power to do good are the gift of God (Phil. 2:13), who, in rewarding, merely crowns His own work; and that, as regards forgiveness of sin, if He is “faithful and just” to grant it (1 John 1:9), is not on account of our merits, but those of Christ, whose obedience, active and passive, becomes the property of those who believe upon Him. Inasmuch as no attribute of God is separable from His essence, and His essence is love, His righteousness can only be an efflux, and particular manifestation of His love; for which reason to attempt to set the one against the other, or to construct systems from their presumed opposition, is unscriptural, and tends to introduce something like dualism into the Divine nature.
Mercy. – Although this attribute has been denied an independent existence, on the ground that it is identical with love, a distinction clearly exists between them. Mercy is love; but it is love towards the fallen, the miserable. It has special relation, therefore, to the fact of sin in the world, and to the provisions of the Gospel for deliverance from the consequences of sin. Even towards the regenerate, who are reconciled to God through Christ, and have learned to cry, Abba, Father (Rom. 8:15), there is room for its exercise; for though they are no longer under the dominion of sin, they offend in many things (James 3:2), and that continually; and therefore are continually compelled to fall back upon the assurance that, like as a father pities his erring and repentant children, so the Lord is merciful to them that fear Him (Ps. 103:13, Luke 15).
D. – The Works of God
§ 18. Both the earlier Creeds connect creation with the existence of God: and in this they are followed by our Article, which speaks of Him as the “Maker and Preserver of all things, both visible and invisible.” But between the attributes and the works of God there is an intermediate link by which we pass from one to the other, viz., the Will of God, or His free agency. This can hardly be called an attribute, and yet is the ground of all His works, and therefore claims a short notice. In attributing will to God, we invest Him with the essential property of a free agent, the power of choice; we affirm that He was under no necessity, like a blind force, to do what He has actually done. And since there is no real distinction between the Will and the Being of God, the imperfections connected with human will must be removed from our conception of the Divine: thus there is no succession in it, as when we deliberate first, and then will; no change involved, as when we pass from the power of willing to the act; but deliberation, decree, choice of means, choice of end, are all one in God, and co-eternal with Himself. That He is under no necessity of willing any particular effect, appears from the consideration that He is in Himself all-sufficient; which He could not be, if anything outside of Himself were indispensable as a complement to His perfection. The object of God’s will can only be absolute good, first in Himself, then in the creature: He cannot will otherwise; but this is no limitation, but a perfection. Why His will should be described in one point of view as absolute, in another as conditional; or as antecedent and consequent; or as efficacious and the reverse; active or merely permissive; in other words, why an effect which He wills does not, and one which he does not will does, take place, are questions which more properly belong to other heads of discussion.
The works of God, when we consider Him as the efficient cause of the universe, are usually described as creation, conservation, and cooperation. The first applies to the commencement, the second to the continuance, the third to the active forces of the frame of nature. It is needless to remark, that in God Himself there is neither variety nor succession of acts: all His acts are one, but to our apprehension they are distinguishable. For clearly it seems one species of act to call things into being, another to preserve them in being, and a third to cooperate with their powers. So it seems, we say, for in reality it may be doubted whether these acts do not run into one another: e.g., to give existence to a thing is to give it continuance, for however short a period; to preserve a thing is to preserve all that makes it what it is, viz., its vital powers as well as its material form. The distinctions are more valuable as safeguards against imperfect views of the Divine agency than in a philosophical point of view. For instance, if we fix our attention too exclusively on the conservation of things, we may be tempted to forget either that they owe their very being to Almighty power, or that they cannot exert their inherent forces without the Divine cooperation; if we have regard to creation alone, we may overlook the fact that, even when in existence, things could not continue so for a moment without God’s sustaining presence. In this, as in other instances, it is the weakness of our faculties that compels us to consider under different aspects what is in reality one and the same operation.
§ 19. Creation
The primary idea of creation is production out of nothing (ex nihilo); by which expression is to be understood not that “nothing” was a kind of material out of which God created the universe, but that there was no material at all antecedent to the creative act. It will be seen that this idea is necessary to obviate undue limitation of the Divine power. If an uncreated matter (υλη) existed independently of God, and coeternally with Him, He would be a mere artificer, making the best use of the material to his hand, and possibly thwarted in his aim by its refractoriness, which, in fact, is one very ancient mode of accounting for the existence of evil. The emanation theory, according to which the world is an external efflux of the Divine nature, involves the absurdity of supposing that an infinite Being could throw off from Himself a finite being, i.e., undergo a change of nature. The world, while dependent upon God, both for its existence and continuance, is yet distinct from Him, and consequently has, in the proper sense of the word, been created; and all the passages of Scripture which declare that there is but one God, and invest Him with infinite attributes, furnish indirect proofs of a proper creation. The Mosaic account (Gen. 1) supplies, of course, the main materials for our knowledge and our reasoning on this subject. From it we learn, that “by the Word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing in the water and out of the water” (2 Pet. 3:5); and this general fact remains unaffected by any particular interpretation of the passage. Whether verse 1 is to be considered as a summary of what follows, or as referring to the creation of the elementary principles of matter, on which the subsequent changes proceeded; whether the “days” of creation are to be understood literally, or as signifying vast intervals of time; the true principle of creation – “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:9) – is equally asserted.
It is plain that by ascribing the successive acts by which the world was prepared to be the abode of man, to the word of God, the writer implies that each was, in a true sense, an act of creation, that is, that they did not pass one into the other in the way of natural antecedent and consequent. Lifeless matter did not breathe into itself the principle of vegetable life, nor did vegetable life advance by any known law into animal, nor animal into rational; there was a chasm between each of these steps, which nature of itself could not bridge over. There must, no doubt, have been a groundwork in the earlier for the later manifestations of creative energy; a point of affinity with which the latter could connect themselves. Man, e.g., was not created per saltum; there was a capacity in the irrational soul for the gift of reason. But the progression was not the less above nature; and each step involved a repetition of creative agency. Yet since this agency made use of existing materials, and built upon them, it is distinguishable from the first Divine act of creation ex nihilo; whence its name of secondary, or mediate creation.
Whether the world had a beginning or not, is a question which does not necessarily affect the idea of creation; for a world, the commencement of which we can assign to no point of time, may be as much dependent on the Creator as one to which we can assign such a point; hence it was held to be an open question. The controversy relates not to the secondary acts of creation, the works of the six days, for they are described as occurring in time, and therefore must have had a beginning, but to the primary creative act. When we attempt to conceive this either as having had a beginning or as having had none, we encounter metaphysical difficulties which Kant pronounces insoluble, and which really are so if we grant his premise that time, in the proper sense of the word, can exist apart from the succession of events by which it is measured. Augustine’s formula seems nearest the truth: “The world was made not in time, but with time”; i.e., time was coeval with creation, and though in thought we can extend it backwards beyond that point (as Scripture itself speaks of what occurred, “before the foundation of the world,” Ephes. 1:4), yet it is then no longer time in fact, and we plunge into the abyss of eternity. That the world had a beginning has, therefore, come to be the commonly received opinion. Another difficulty, of very ancient date, is stated in the question of Velleius, the Epicurean, in Cicero, De Nat. Deor. 1. i. c. 9: “Why,” he asks, “should artificers of the world have suddenly appeared? and why should they have slept for innumerable ages previously?” In other words, how can we conceive God’s willing that the world should exist without His will immediately taking effect? Again, if He ever existed without the world, there was a time when He was not Creator; when He became so, did not this involve a change? to suppose which is not consistent with proper ideas of the perfection of the Divine nature. It was on this ground that Origen was led to argue against the world’s having had a beginning; and so far as it was an idea in the Divine mind he was in the right; it must have been eternally present to the Divine intelligence. How this is to be reconciled with the apparent doctrine of Scripture, which is, that the actual world did not exist from eternity, but that time and it came into being together, is a question for metaphysicians to discuss, and is one which dogmatic theology has little to do with. Hence, though as a rule favouring the common opinion, theologians have never considered the other as inconsistent with Christian faith.
The final end of creation can be no other than the glory of God and the communication of the highest good to the creature: things which in fact can never be separated. It would be improper, therefore, to say that God needed the world to complete His blessedness; i.e., that He must have created it. He is in Himself all-sufficient and all-blessed. Nor is it less improper to maintain that God created any part of the universe, especially of the reasonable creation, to show forth His glory in its eternal ruin: a tenet incompatible with the fundamental ethical truth, that God is love.
§ 20. Conservation
By the schoolmen conservation was identified with creation, being described as a creatio continua, or a series of successive acts of the same energy which called things into existence. And, no doubt, all the works of God are, as far as He is concerned, one. To us, however, there is a distinction between the maintenance of the existing frame of nature and its first production; and the idea can hardly be dispensed with in our conception of the Divine causality. It expresses the fact that the world, after its creation, does not continue to exist by any independent power of its own; and that if God’s maintaining presence were withdrawn, it would relapse into pristine nothingness. Yet as things must be supposed to possess, by the gift of creation, inherent faculties and powers which naturally propagate themselves, the Divine agency in conservation is not exclusive and God maintains the frame of nature by maintaining its faculties and powers. Thus certain plants were created with medicinal properties, which so far have an independent existence; but that they continue to exhibit these properties, and so minister to the art of the physician, is from God’s sustaining power. How, then, does conservation differ from cooperation (concursus)? Not specifically, for both are modes of the Divine omnipresence; but the former represents rather the passive, the latter rather the active, side thereof; the former is connected rather with the fundamental laws of nature (such as electricity, gravitation, generation, etc.), or with species as distinguished from individuals; the latter rather with the manifestations of those laws, or the actions of individuals. We apply, e.g., the idea of conservation to the human race, the idea of cooperation to the conquests of an Alexander or a Napoleon; the former to the laws of storms, the latter to the particular tempest which destroyed the Spanish Armada. Yet it may be questioned whether the distinction can, philosophically, maintain its ground, whether it is not founded merely on the degree of prominence which the activity of secondary causes assumes in either case.
§ 21. Providence
The Divine agency is here considered in relation not to efficient but to final causation. If God created the world for His own glory in the communication to it of the highest good, He must be conceived as providing for the attainment of the end, as well in the choice of means as in their combination; disposing and directing every event, even every purpose of free agents, towards the accomplishment of His designs. He is a negotiosus Deus who never lets the reins of government fall from His hands. The mode of speaking is, as usual, analogical. When we propose an end to ourselves we are compelled to select and make use of other agencies as means; but God needs not means to effect His purposes, and as regards Him the distinction vanishes: to Him everything is at once means and end. The doctrine of Providence is opposed, in the first place, to that of blind necessity (the fatum of the ancients), which leaves no room for an intelligent will in the order of nature, and confronts us at every step with the iron rule of inexorable law; and, in the next place, to the doctrine of chance, which does not, indeed, deny efficient causation, but treats the belief of a controlling Providence, disposing all events to an intended issue, as a pious illusion. It places us in the hands of Him who has told us that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without His permission, that the very hairs of our head are numbered, and that all things work together for good to them that love Him (Matt. 10:29, 30; Rom. 8:28). With respect to the objects of Divine Providence, nothing is excepted from it, however insignificant it may appear to us: for, in the first place, to God nothing is either great or small, this relation existing only for finite intelligences – as in mathematics the smallest and the greatest quantity are equally nothing when compared with infinity; and, secondly, the (apparently) most trifling event may give rise to momentous and far-reaching consequences; as the noise of geese is said to have preserved Rome from destruction – and had Rome been destroyed how different would the history of the world have been! The sentiment, therefore, “Magna Dii curant, parva negligunt,” is as unphilosophical as it is irreligious. But though everything is an object of Providence, it does not follow that everything is equally so: hence the distinctions that have been drawn between general and special Providence, the former being concerned with nature as a whole, the latter with the Church. And, no doubt, there must be some difference between the care which God has for all His creatures, in feeding the fowls of the air (Matt. 6:26), in blessing the labours of the husbandman with rain and fruitful seasons (Acts 14:17), or in His providential government of the human race (Acts 17:26); and that which He exercises towards those whom He has chosen in Christ (Ephes. 1:4), redeemed with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:19), sanctified by His Spirit, and made heirs of eternal life. The distinctions, however, not infrequently overlap each other; e.g., if the life and labours of S. Paul, after his conversion, were the subject of Providence in its most special sense, yet his mental endowments, his birth, his education, and other circumstances which fall under the head of general Providence, manifestly bore upon his special mission; not to mention that if he was thus selected for a particular purpose, this again was for the sake of the heathen world which was his appointed field. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that Divine Providence has ever had one grand aim, the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon earth under Christ; and that all its subordinate agencies, whether in nature or in history, have been intended to promote that final result. This is the great lesson of sacred history, from the call of Abraham to the impending consummation, when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ (Rev. 11:15): for this the world was created, has been preserved, and is controlled in all its complicated movements by the Providence of God.
There is, however, a distinction of real importance, as regards the manner in which Providence operates, that, viz., between ordinary and extraordinary, or those cases in which it works in the usual manner through secondary causes, and those in which it arrests attention by some unusual combination. The latter have received the name of special Providences. Events occur in history, or in the lives of individuals, of the greatest moment in their consequences, which have been brought about by a concurrence of circumstances so remarkable as to force upon us the idea of special Divine agency: the junction of the man and the hour has been marvelously effected; lines of historical progression have intersected each other at the exact time and place when and where it was needful. Yet a special Providence can hardly be called a miracle: partly because in order to recognize it a retrospect is necessary, whereas a miracle addresses the senses directly; partly because there is here no interference with the established order of nature, the miraculous element lying in the combination, not in the nature of the events; and partly because it is not a question of authenticating a mission to introduce a new religion, and this it is that furnishes the appropriate place for miracles properly so called. True miracles come under the head rather of Creation than of Providence; which latter is associated in our minds rather with the controlling and directing of the existing order of things, than with the originating of something new.
A main difficulty remains how to reconcile the doctrine of Providence, as explained above, with human freedom. If Providence were confined to mere foreknowledge, the difficulty (though not by any means removed, for God’s foreknowledge cannot be conceived without a result in act) would be mitigated; but if it involves, as it does, the idea of active government, how can this coexist with liberty of human action? That they must somehow coexist, we know, on the testimony both of Scripture and of reason. We know that we are free to choose between contending motives, or, at any rate, actions; and Scripture proceeds upon this fact in its promises and threatenings, its examples of reward and punishment. Yet the same Scripture asserts, as plainly, the entire dependence of created beings upon God, without whose permission and direction nothing happens that does happen. Without human liberty there could be no virtue nor religion; without a recognition of Providence, no just views of the Divine nature. The philosophical difficulty lies in this that owing to the connection of cause and effect every event, according as it happens or does not happen, carries with it an interminable train of consequences, the issue of which no one can foresee; the doctrine of free will therefore seems to vest in man the power of permanently altering the course of nature; and if so, the designs of God would seem to be dependent upon human choice, or caprice. The complete solution of the problem is probably beyond the reach of our faculties: [“Where does the difficulty in this case originate? Where is it situated? It originates in a province of thought wherein our notions confessedly are inadequate and imperfect; in an estimate of the Divine nature, and the infinite perfections of God” (Davison on Proph. dis. vii.). It should never be forgotten that in speaking of God’s foreknowledge, or decrees, we anthropomorphize, and speak analogically.] meanwhile it may be observed that if anything could occur unexpectedly, so to speak, as regards God, He whose power and wisdom are infinite, can never be at a loss for means to counteract or divert its consequences. But this supposition is inadmissible; nothing can ever occur unexpectedly as regards God. We are brought back, then, to the old tentative solution, that when God determined to create free agents, He imposed upon Himself limitations in His dealings with or through them: He must, unless He was to annihilate the freedom which He had created, allow it its proper scope; He must permit voluntary causes to operate in their own way, as well as necessary ones in their way; and the certainty of the event (which must be admitted) does not affect the nature of the causation, which produces it, or transform freedom in necessity. Yet free as the causes may be, if God is omnipresent, not as a mere spectator, but as an efficient agent in every change that takes place (things being considered merely under the aspect of contingency, not of their moral quality; in what sense God cooperates with evil actions is a different question), He must be supposed as, in some way inscrutable to us, shaping the ultimate result. For freedom in the creature is not independence of God, who both created and upholds free agents not less than necessary, and apart from whom neither could exist for a moment. The difficulty of explaining how God, without interfering with free causation, yet makes it subservient to His purposes, meets us also on the subject of Divine grace: trahit volentem, but He gives the will to be drawn, as well as draws. In the one case as in the other, the concurrence of Divine agency with human freedom is a mystery which baffles comprehension. Attempts to evade it, by reducing Divine agency to mere foreknowledge,* only land us in other difficulties, and on more critical ground – the nature of the Divine perfections. The facts must be admitted, and the mystery acknowledged; and with this we must be content until an enlargement of our faculties enables us to see things in their unity, which at present exist side by side as independent truths.
[*A great thinker confesses his inability to solve the problem: “Si ad Dei naturam attendamus, clare et distincte perspicimus omnia ab ipso pendere, nihilque existere nisi quod ab aeterno a Deo decretum est ut existat. Quomodo autem humana voluntas a Deo singulis momentis procreetur tali modo ut libera maneat, id ignoramus” (Spinoza, Cog. Med. p. i. c. 3. s. 10). See also Hume in his “Essay on Human Understanding,” chap. 39, § 8 fin.]
§ 22. Evil – Especially Moral Evil
If a Being of infinite wisdom and goodness is the Creator of the world, the latter, it should seem, must be a perfect reflection of the Divine nature, i.e., it must contain no admixture of evil. And so, in fact, we are told that when God surveyed the work of His hands He pronounced everything to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Yet the actual state of the world is quite the reverse: it abounds with evil, moral and physical, so much so that it has been subject of debate whether good or evil predominates in it. How are we to reconcile this fact with the infinite perfections of God? If it be said that creation, as it came from the hands of God, was perfect, but man, in the exercise of free will, fell from his state of innocence, and with the fall sin and misery came into the world, it may be replied that God was under no necessity of creating the world, and if He foresaw (as He must have foreseen) that sin would find an entrance into it, why did He create it at all? or if He did choose to create it, why did He not adopt effectual safeguards against the intrusion of the foreign element? [See the imaginary dialogue between Melissus and Zoroaster in Bayle’s Diet., art. Manichees.] Questions which have never yet been satisfactorily answered.
The attempts that have been made in this direction may be reduced to two principal heads: those which affect our conception of God, and those which affect our estimate of the Christian redemption. Since in either point of view they seem inimical to religious faith, it is worth while to examine how far they rest on a solid foundation.
Where the proper notion of evil was retained, as something positively antagonistic to good, it was natural, especially in the absence of revelation, to have recourse to the hypothesis of two independent principles – one the Author of good, the other the author of evil – who, after contending in vain for the mastery, came to a tacit agreement to retire each to his own province, and partition between them the empire of the world. The Manichees in the third and fourth centuries, and the Paulicians in the seventh, were the chief representatives of this theory, which, however, dates from a remote antiquity, and, in fact, readily suggests itself to a mind which has never entertained, or has lost, correct notions of God. [See Plutarch’s confession of his own belief in his “Isis and Osiris,” quoted by Bayle, Manichees.] A dualism of this kind leads to the hypothesis of a limited beneficent Deity, which, of course, is inconsistent with any form of Christian faith.
Those who recoil from it – some within and some without the pale of faith in revelation – have resorted to modes of explanation which virtually consist in denying that what we call sin is sin. Far from being an intrusive principle, foreign to the intended constitution of the world, and actively opposing itself to the Creator and His beneficent purposes, it is described as a necessary factor in the order of things, which without it would be less perfect, and indeed incapable of advancing to its appointed goal; like a sour sauce, it adds piquancy to the banquet, or like a passing discord, it not only is passing (i.e., has no substantial existence), but it enhances the perfection of the harmony. That this is not the idea of sin which Scripture conveys, is obvious; and not less obvious is it that the necessity and importance of the redemption which Scripture reveals are thereby disparaged; for why should man be redeemed from what is a necessary constituent in his moral progress, or an inseparable adjunct of his condition as man? It is by no means, however, so certain that the theories in question rest on a solid foundation.
One great writer, who has paid special attention to the subject, maintains that sin is a necessary consequence of the imperfection of the creature as compared with the Creator. [“Il faut considérer qu’il y a une imperfection originale dans la créature, avant le péché, parceque la créature est limitée essentiellement: d’où vient qu’elle ne sauroit tout savoir, et qu’elle se peut tromper, et faire d’autres fautes” (Leibnitz, “Theodicée,” i. s. 20). “Dieu est la cause de la perfection dans la nature et dans les actions de la créature, mais la limitation de la réceptivité de la créature est la cause des défauts qu’il y a dans son action” (ibid. s. 30). “Dieu ne pourroit pas lui donner tout sans en faire un Dieu: il falloit donc qu’il y eût des différens dégrés dans la perfection des choses, et qu’il y eût aussi des limitations de toute sorte” (ibid. s. 31).] If the creature could be absolutely perfect, it would be as God Himself. God can bestow His gifts only in proportion to the capacity of the receiver; and even He could not create a finite being without the limitations and defects to which all such are subject. Hence the possibility of imperfection in knowledge, error in judgment, and perversion, or at least instability, in the will. It does not follow that these imperfections will acquire actual existence; but they were contained in the Divine understanding, the “Region of eternal truths,” as possibilities; which Region of eternal truths may therefore be called the “Ideal cause” of evil as well as of good, and is what the ancient philosophers had in their mind when they made matter as such the source of evil.* God therefore is the Author of sin in the same sense in which He is the Author of His own understanding; i.e., He is not the Author of it at all. But further, the source of sin being the imperfection of the creature, it is in its nature nothing positive, but merely a privation, as cold is the absence of heat, darkness the absence of light, or as the vis inertiae of bodies retards their velocity.** It is a nothing apart from the substance or quality which forms its opposite pole: it has no independent existence, but cleaves, like a parasite, to what is good; as such, therefore, it needs no efficient but only a “deficient” cause, i.e., abstinence from perpetual miracles to counteract its natural tendency – which is exactly God’s attitude with respect to evil. If the question be asked, Why should God have created a world with such beings in it, in their own nature limited and imperfect? the answer is, that an infinite number of possible worlds having presented itself to the Divine mind, God was bound by a moral necessity to choose that one which, on the whole, should contain the greatest amount of good; and that one is our present world, notwithstanding its admixture of imperfection.***
[*Théod. i. s. 20. It is difficult to see how Leibnitz’s theory escapes making sin a necessary adjunct of human nature; but he seems to disavow the inference: “Le mal métaphysique consiste dans la simple imperfection, le mal physique dans la souffrance, et le mal moral dans le péché. Or quoique le mal physique et le mal moral ne soient point necessaire, if suffit qu’en vertu des vérités éternelles ils soient possibles” (i. s. 21).
**This is a favourite illustration with Leibnitz. “Suppose,” he says, two barges on the same river, but one more heavily laden than the other: this one will proceed the more slowly, not because the current is less strong, but because the vis inertiae of the heavier load opposes a greater resistance to it. The force of the current may be compared with the action of God on the creature; the vis inertiae with the natural imperfection of the creature; the slowness of the barge with the defects which meet the eye in the action of the creature. The current is the cause of the movement, but not of the retardation; and so God is the cause of perfection in the creature, but the limited receptivity of the creature is the cause of its deficiencies. God is as little the cause of sin, as the current is the cause of the retardation” (Theod. i. s. 30).
***See the remarkable allegory at the end of part ii. of the “Théodicée.” Leibnitz’s reasoning on this point does not seem conclusive. His task is to prove that the existence of evil is a sine qua non of the greatest amount of good; but the proof seems to consist in the assertion that because God permitted evil, the world must be the best possible; which is the very thing to be proved. “Il est permis de dire que Dieu peut faire que la vertu soit dans le monde sans aucun mélange du vice, et même qu’il le peut faire aisément. Mais puisqu’il a permis le vice, il faut que l’ordre de l’univers trouvé préférable a tout autre plan l’ait demandé. Il faut juger qu’il n’est pas permis de faire autrement, puisqu’il n’est pas possible de faire mieux” (Theod. ii. s. 124).]
The weak point in this theory does not lie in its Theodicy properly so called, for every Theodicy must aim at the same conclusion, viz., that the world would be less perfect without evil than with it, but in its views of the nature of moral evil, or sin. If the source of sin is the inherent imperfection of the creature as such, then the highest archangel is not free from it, being a creature; nor can sin ever be wholly extirpated from the Kingdom of God: whatever change may await the redeemed hereafter, they must still be creatures, and Leibnitz’s reasoning will apply to them. [Hence his well-known description of the creature as an “asymptote” of Deity. See Müller, “Lehre der Sünde,” b. ii. c.1.] But especially, the notion of sin’s being a mere privation is opposed both to Scripture and experience. Scripture speaks of sin not merely as an impediment to the Christian’s progress, but as a principle of hostility against God (Rom. 8:7): Christ and Satan, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, are engaged in irreconcilable conflict, which can only end in the destruction of the latter (Matt. 12:26, 27; Ephes. 6:12; 1 Cor. 15:25). And such, in fact, does sin show itself when the restraints of law or of society are removed, and it has free scope to display its nature. The tragic page of history, individual and national, conveys far less frequently the idea of misfortune to be lamented than of wickedness to be hated and punished; and the State, as a Divine ordinance, is compelled to deal with crime under this aspect (Rom. 13:4). The theory, in fact, confounds metaphysical with ethical good and evi1. [J. Müller, “Lehre der Sünde,” b. ii. c. 1.] Metaphysical good consists in the perfection of a thing as a mere production, so that no essential constituent is wanting to it; and hence it may be predicated of the inanimate and the irrational creation, to which the idea of moral goodness is inapplicable, or applicable only in a very inferior degree. Moral goodness implies reason and free will, and consists in their right direction – moral evil in the reverse. According to the “Théodicée,” the difference is one of quantity, not of quality: evil is the less, good the more, perfect metaphysically; a view with which the fact that the greatest wickedness is often found combined with the greatest energy of will is irreconcilable. It is here overlooked that privation, in a moral sense, involves or presupposes a positive perversion of will: man fails of reaching the standard set before him because he does not will to reach it: his failure is criminal, and is treated as such in Scripture. This celebrated essay, then, notwithstanding the just reputation which it enjoys, solves the problem by essentially altering one of its conditions, i.e., it fails to solve it. [The rudiment of the theory that sin is a mere privation, a nothing in short, appears in Augustine, e.g., De Civ. Dei, lib. xii. c. 7: “Nemo quaerat efficientern causam malae voluntatis: non enim est efficiens sed deficiens: quia nec illa effectio est sed defectio. Deficere namque ab eo quod summe est ad id quod minus est, hoc est incipere habere voluntatem malam. Causas porro defectionum istarum, cum efficientes non sint, ut dixi, sed deficientes, velle invenire tale est ac si quisquam velit videre tenebras, vel audire silentium: quod tamen utrumque nobis notum est: neque illud nisi per oculos, neque hoc nisi per aures, non sane in specie sed in speciei privatione.” From Augustine it passed into the systems of the great Roman Catholic theologians. See Bellarm. De Stat. Pec. 1. ii. c. 18.]
Another explanation is that the animal nature of man, as contrasted with his higher one, is the source of sin. Man is connected with the outer world by means of the senses, which not only convey impressions, but are the avenues through which, as in the case of our first parents, temptations find an entrance to the soul. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit” (Gal. 5:17), and since in infancy and childhood the animal nature gets the start of the spiritual, the latter is placed at a disadvantage, its orderly development is checked, it advances by fits and starts, experiences frequent reverses, and sometimes never gains the ascendency; and the result is – sin. [Schleiermacher, “Glaubenslehre,” ss. 66–7.] The possibility of sin is here sufficiently accounted for, but as an explanation of its origin the theory is a failure. The animal nature itself cannot be sinful, otherwise sin might be predicted of the brute creation; and moreover such a doctrine tends directly to Manicheism. How comes it, too, that the superior factor in human nature should, as experience shows, be so universally and permanently overcome by the inferior? Whence the feeling of guilt, if after all not the man, not his true self, i.e. his “spirit,” but something which is not so, is the source of sin? Are there not special sins of the spirit which have no apparent connection with the flesh, such as those mentioned in Gal. 5:20? In Scripture the Pharisees, to whose charge sins of the flesh are not laid, are described as farther from the Kingdom of Heaven than the publicans and harlots. Above all, our Lord Himself cannot, on this hypothesis, be pronounced free from sin; for the Eternal Son in becoming flesh became subject to temptation as we are (Heb. 4:15), and experienced the shrinking of nature from suffering (Matt. 26:39, Heb. 5:7), or, in other words, its resistance to the higher law of the spirit; if, notwithstanding this, He was “without sin” (Heb. 4:15), the seat of the latter cannot be merely in the animal part of man. We have still then to ask, What is the intermediate factor between the flesh and the spirit, i.e. the lower and the higher parts of man’s nature, whereby the latter is compelled to abdicate its natural supremacy, and make itself the servant of the former? (Rom. 6:17). In this factor lies the true source of sin. But the theory in question supplies no answer. It is to be remarked, too, that it leaves the fall of the angels, purely spiritual beings, quite unaccounted for. [That the word σαρξ, so common in S. Paul’s Epistles, means much more than the mere natural affections and impulses of which the body is the organ, is abundantly proved by J. Müller, “Lehre, etc., b. ii. c. 2. See also Tholuck on Rom. 1:3; Harless on Ephes. 2:3; Neander, Geschichte der Pflanzung, etc., p. 572, 3rd edit.]
But admitting that sin is more than a mere privation, or a necessary consequence of an animal nature – that, in fact, it is nothing less than a principle of active opposition to the law of God – do we not see that opposition and contrast pervade the whole of human life, and are the indispensable conditions of improvement, whether in the individual or the community? Action and reaction is a law of matter; in the human body every muscle has its antagonist; light and darkness are correlatives; every resultant is composed of diverging forces. In the domain of art, a picture without shadows would be without lights, and a piece of music without occasional discords would sound flat and insipid. What health means is known by sickness, and rest presupposes labour. In communities, especially free ones, opposite tendencies, opposite parties, supplementing and correcting each other, are the very materials of national progress; and the foremost of civilized nations have only won their position through protracted, and sometimes sanguinary, struggles. Thus the clashing of opposite elements is everywhere the condition of a higher unity; and why should we be surprised if we find the same law prevailing in the spiritual progress of the race? To be known as such, goodness must have its contrast and foil in evil, which therefore has a necessary, though transient, existence; and moreover, when felt, acts as a stimulus to improvement. Such is another rationale of evil, which can number among its supporters names of great authority. [This theory reaches its culminating point in Hegel and his school. Scripture tells us that man was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), but the philosopher’s doctrine is that “Man must eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, otherwise he is not a man, but a beast” (Hegel, quoted by Müller, Lehre etc., b. ii. c. 4); on which Martensen pertinently remarks that Hegel’s paradise is a “zoological garden” (Dog. s. 82). Novalis describes sin as the poignant relish which makes religion palatable (ibid. s. 85).]
That it is inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture needs hardly to be observed, particularly with the doctrines of the sinlessness of Christ and the future sinlessness of His Church: for according to it, moral perfection is only attainable through the knowledge and antagonism of sin. But, in fact, it rests upon erroneous premises. It is assumed that goodness, apart from its foil of evil, is a mere passive quality without activity or progress; than which nothing can be further from the truth. The Source of all goodness is perpetually active (John 5:17); it was our Lord’s meat and drink to do the will of Him that sent Him; the introduction of Christianity into the world is compared to leaven which never ceases to work until it has permeated the mass (Matt. 13:33). Goodness has its spring of energy within itself, and needs no foreign force to impel it on its path. Besides this, so far from being a necessary condition of moral or spiritual progress, evil impedes, corrupts, perverts every step of advance towards that perfection. In the individual, sin wars against the better law of his mind; [“Sed trahit invitum nova vis, aliudque cupido Mens aliud suadet; video meliora proboque Deteriora sequor.”] in the community it is an active principle of disintegration and ruin. Avowed enmity, not friendly cooperation, is its real character. It is true that the higher we ascend in the scale of organization the greater the number and variety of constituent elements which, in a certain sense, present contrasts; as in man, the summit of terrestrial creation, body and soul, sensation and reflection, understanding, affections, will: but, according to the ordinance of God, these divers faculties are intended not to counteract but to aid and supplement each other, so that no jarring discords shall mar the result. It is the same in communities; the beneficial effect of different ranks, pursuits, and opposite parties, depends on the degree in which all are actuated with a zeal for the common welfare, and are prepared to unite if it be endangered. So too in the Church: there are “diversities,” and “differences of administrations,” but they all proceed from the same Spirit, and all tend to the edification of the body (1 Cor. 12). No such tendency can be perceived in sin; it is an enemy to be expelled, not an ally to be admitted. According to this theory, the first man could not have had a sinless development, or arrived at the knowledge of good and evil by a decision in favour of obedience; to emerge from an immature state of innocence he needed a fall; which is a gratuitous assumption. Man may have needed to be tempted in order to spiritual progress, but had he, like the second Adam, withstood the temptation, he would, in a manner analogous to that in which God does, [“The Lord God said, Behold the man is become like one of us, to know good and evil” (Gen. 3:22). In whatever way God possesses this knowledge, it cannot be through the intermediate step of sin.] have arrived at the knowledge of good and evil; he would have attained it in the right way, whereas he took the wrong one.
It appears then that, for all the light that philosophical theories have thrown upon the matter, the origin of evil is as much a mystery as ever. Nor does Scripture profess to explain it. It assumes the fact; it describes sin as positive depravity; and it tells us how it found an entrance into this our world; but how angelic beings came to fall it leaves in darkness. That philosophy has not superseded the Scriptural statements on the nature of sin, and therefore the need of a Redeemer is evident; and this is all that we are concerned with. We can perceive, however, that the gift of free will, and therefore the possibility of sin, is the condition of some advantages which apparently could not otherwise have been secured. If there had been no free will, there would have been no sin; but, on the other hand, no moral virtue, no superiority to the brute creation. The prerogative was a perilous one, and must be accepted with its hazards. Nor should we forget that though God is not the Author of evil, He can make it the occasion of far greater good. Thus the crime of Joseph’s brethren was overruled to the preservation of the chosen family from whom Christ was to come (Gen. 45:5); and thus Adam’s fall itself was the occasion of a greater restoration. [“O felix culpa, quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem!”]
This last remark leads us to consider the relation in which evil actions stand to the Divine causality, which, as we know, embraces all things, or at least is never wholly inactive in respect of them. God cannot be the Author of a sinful action; and yet nothing can be conceived of as wholly independent of God – this is the difficulty. The scholastic distinction is Deus concurrit ad materiale, non ad formale actionis malae; i.e., the Divine cooperation is confined to what in an action cannot be called evil, viz. the natural powers and faculties of the agent, and does not extend to the perversion of those powers, which is solely owing to a corrupt will. [“Concurrit in malis actionibus divina providentia naturam sustentando, in ipso enim movemur” (Acts 17:28). “Est autem stupenda Dei longanimitas, quod sustentat membra, conservat vires ac motus in illis etiam actionibus, in quibus summa afficitur contumelia” (J. Gerh. loc. vii. c. 8). “Cum actus qua talis semper bonus sit quoad entitatem suam, Deus ad illum concurrit effective et physice, non modo naturam conservando sed motus etiam ejus et actiones ciendo motione physica utpote quae sunt bona naturalia, quo sensu dicimur in Deo vivere, moveri, et esse” (Turretine, lib. vi. q. 7). Compare Chemnitz, Examen, p. i. lib. 7, s. 1.] In fact, if God were to withdraw His sustaining power for a moment, the whole frame of creation, including evil men, would collapse; to this extent, then, He must be considered as cooperating with such men, but only in the sense in which He cooperates with the motion of the planets. Hence the importance of the distinction between creation and conservation. Had God created man with a taint of sin, it would have been impossible to disconnect sin from the Divine causality; not so if He merely does not, because some reasonable beings in the universe misuse their faculties, withdraw the sustaining power by which all things consist (Heb. 1:3); in such a case, the misuse may, and in fact does, proceed not from God but from themselves. This distinction sometimes appears under another form, viz., that God neither wills nor produces sinful acts, but only permits them. But how, can God permit what He abhors when He has power to prevent it? The answer is that the Divine permission applies not to the sin directly, but to the free agency from which it proceeds. It pleased Him to create beings who possess an independent spring of action within themselves, who can originate and carry on a moral development in the direction either of good or evil. By so doing He has limited, not under necessity, but freely, the exercise of His omnipotent power, and acts accordingly even when evil rather than good is chosen by the creature. He permits the continued existence of free agency, with the full foreknowledge of the possibility, and even of the fact, of its choosing the wrong; and He does this because, though He hates the sin, He could not forcibly prevent it without destroying that in which Personality, i.e. a capacity for reunion with Himself, consists. It is thus that the language of the Old Testament is to be understood in passages which seem to refer evil directly to God. God is said to have “raised up” Pharaoh to show in him His power (Exod. 9:16), because, Pharaoh’s will being already perverse, God did not interfere with its exercise, and could not have done so without destroying Pharaoh’s responsibility. He is said to have “hardened” the heart of Pharaoh, or of the children of Israel (Exod. 7:13, Isa. 63:17); because having hardened their own hearts they were not forcibly restrained from the choice they had made, and because the commandment which came to them, in itself “holy, just, and good,” became the innocent occasion of increasing their rebellion and their guilt. Yet, in thus permitting the free will of man to work out its own results, God is by no means an indifferent spectator of the process. For not only does the Divine law from without, and the voice of conscience from within, testify against the sinner, but the sin itself, once committed, does not escape from the control of Divine providence. God can place limits to its natural tendency; He can check one sin by another; He can make the sinful agent a means of executing His righteous judgments (Isa. 10:7); and we may rest assured He will overrule it to promote the interests of His kingdom. The greatest of sins was thus made the means of conveying the greatest of blessings to mankind (Acts 2:23).
But besides moral evil, or sin, the world abounds with suffering, mental and bodily; and this too seems inconsistent with its having proceeded from a Creator of infinite goodness. The difficulty here, however, is less than in the former case, for the fact of sin once admitted, suffering is only its natural consequence, under the government of a righteous Creator, and indeed can in most instances be directly traced to it; the amount of suffering which we could not avoid being insignificant as compared with that of which our own sins, or those of others, are the direct cause. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death” (the comprehensive term for all kinds of woe) “by sin” (Rom. 5:12); it could not be otherwise, consistently with the moral order of the universe. God permits this order to be violated by free agents, but He does not permit the transgression to pass unvisited: there is a recoil of the eternal law upon the sinner, which, as far as is possible, annihilates his sin, and restores the supremacy of right. This is the true idea of punishment, natural or positive – a point forgotten by those who limit its object merely to be a warning to transgressors, or to improve them. The extreme penalty of the law is an instance in point; there is here no question of improvement; a crime has been committed which, if the community is to be purged from the taint of complicity, must be expiated by death. And since the State no less than the Church is God’s ordinance (Rom. 13), and a revelation of His will, there is here a clear manifestation of His displeasure against sin. It is quite another aspect of suffering when we view it as chastisement, intended to promote the good of the sufferers (Heb. xii.), and meted out by infinite wisdom; here it is no longer punishment, i.e. retribution, but fatherly discipline. To be subjected to this discipline is the privilege of the Church; and her light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for her a far more exceeding weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17) to be manifested on that day when suffering, as well as its parent, sin, shall for ever disappear from the kingdom of God (Rev. 21:4).
Part II – The Holy Trinity
§ 23. One God, Father, Son, And Holy Ghost
The attributes and works of God, as we have seen, present to us the one Divine agency under various aspects and in different relations; and thus far Christian Theism coincides with that of other monotheistic religions, at any rate with the Jewish, which leaves nothing to be supplied as regards the purity and loftiness of its conceptions of the Divine being. Does the later revelation add anything to our knowledge of the nature of God? The answer to the question is contained in the Confession of the Catholic Church at all times and in all places, that “in the Unity of the Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost”; in other words, that in the one Godhead there are three, and no more, Subjects of whom Divine attributes are predicated, and to whom Divine works are ascribed.
The usual arrangement, which our Article follows, of placing the doctrine of the Trinity under the general head of Theism is open to objection. For the interest which the Christian feels in this doctrine is of a practical rather than of a speculative character; that is to say, he is not so much concerned with the fact that in the Godhead there is a Trinity of Persons, as with the offices which the three Persons discharge in the work of redemption. The inner constitution of the Divine nature may be, and must be if Scripture reveals it, a subject of hallowed contemplation; but if it terminates in itself as a question of philosophy, or even if it occupies the foreground in our discussions, to the forgetfulness of its practical import in the Divine plan of salvation, it proportionably loses its Christian character. The immediate object of the Christian’s faith is not the ontological Trinity, or the relations of the first, second, and third Persons to each other, but the Trinity of redemption, the Father who created, the Son who redeemed, and the Holy Ghost who sanctifies us. It is a disadvantage then to approach the subject, in the first instance, from the ontological side, or to introduce the terms of the Athanasian Creed before showing the practical foundation on which they rest; which, however, is a very common method of proceeding. It is hardly necessary to observe, that it is not the method of Scripture. The New Testament, as we shall see, is not silent on this mysterious topic, but the hints which it furnishes are comparatively few and obscure, and the prominent aspect is ever the love of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, in devising, accomplishing, and applying the means of our restoration from the effects of the fall. In following this method it is difficult not to anticipate, to some extent, what properly belongs to other topics, viz., the Person of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit; but we thus avoid the abrupt introduction of formulas and modes of expression which cannot be understood except in connection with the history of the Trinitarian controversy.
The central figure of the New Testament is Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate. He announces Himself not merely as a teacher sent from God, approved by miracles which no one, unless in intimate connection with God, could perform (John 3:2), but, as His name imports, the anointed Saviour, foretold by the prophets, and now appearing in the fullness of time (Luke 24:27); as come to seek and to save the lost (Matt. 18:11); as having power on earth to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6); as hearing and granting prayer (John 14:13); as the bread of God which gives life unto the world (John 6:33); as the resurrection and the life (John 11:25); and as the future Judge of quick and dead (Matt. 25:31). Unless Jesus was either a deceiver or self-deceived in appropriating to Himself such exalted functions, which not even the greatest of the prophets of the Old Testament venture to do, we must at least, with Arius, grant Him a rank in the scale of existence second only to that of the supreme Deity; He must be, if not eternal and self-existent (ην πότε ότε ουκ ην) a kind of δεύτερος θεος, or the highest of created things. But Scripture goes beyond this, and uses language which cannot be understood otherwise than as asserting His absolute Godhead. Let us take, for example, the title “Son of God,” which, though not the one chosen by Himself to designate His person, is of frequent use, and is never disclaimed by Him as unsuitable or improper (Mark 1:1, Luke 8:28, Rom. 5:10, and above all, John 6:69). In what sense is it used? There is no doubt that in Scripture the title is of wide application. Israel collectively, or as a nation, is called the Son of God (Exod. 4:22, Hosea 11:1); Christians are sons of God (Rom. 8:14); all men are so in a certain sense (Acts 17:29). It may mean, also, merely ethical resemblance to God (Matt. 5:45). But in some of the passages alluded to the connection in which it occurs leaves no doubt as to its meaning. On two occasions (John 5:18, 10:33) the Jews sought to put Jesus to death because they understood Him, in saying that God is His Father, to assert His equality with God; and this in their eyes was blasphemy. If they misunderstood Him, why did He not remove the impression by disavowing the imputation? Still more to the point, when the High Priest adjured Him in the most solemn manner to declare whether He were the Son of God, He replied in the affirmative (Matt. 26:63); and in what sense the question was put is plain from the exclamation of the proposer, “He hath spoken blasphemy” (verse 65). Nor must the distinguishing epithet, “only begotten” (μονογενής) be overlooked which S. John (1:18) introduces in connection with the title, and which, without entering at present further into its meaning, is evidently intended to establish an essential difference between the Sonship of Jesus and that of any other being. But passages are not wanting in which He is directly spoken of as God. As for instance, the exclamation of Thomas, when convinced of His resurrection, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), which elicits no reproof from the risen Saviour; S. Paul’s statements that His second coming will be that of “our great God and Saviour” (Titus 2:13), that “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), that He “is over all, God blessed for ever” (Rom. 9:5); and S. John’s, that He is “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). To which we may add that worship is represented as offered to Him (Rev. 5:12), and that by Jews to whom “the gods many and lords many” of heathenism were an abomination.
But the title “Son of God,” which, taken in connection with other statements of Scripture, establishes the Deity of the man Christ Jesus, involves another conception of God, viz., as the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”; which, accordingly, repeatedly occurs in Scripture, and nowhere more emphatically than in our Lord’s own discourses (see John 17; 2 Cor. 1:3, Ephes. 3:14). The Deity and Personality of the Father are not matter of dispute; but His distinction from the Son is equally marked. The Father did not come into the world, but sent His Son to redeem it (John 3:16, Gal. 4:4, 5): nor does Christ say that He is the same, but that He is one with the Father; that He is in the Father and the Father in Him (John 10:30, 14:11); that He works as the Father works (John 5:17); and that He came not to do His own will, but the will of the Father which sent Him (ibid. 30). The Father is said to love the Son (John 3:35), and to bear witness to the Son (John 5:37); and on two solemn occasions this witness is recorded when a voice from heaven was heard saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him” (Matt. 3:17, 17:5). The language employed suggests an analogy to the human relation, and it is plain that the titles cannot be indiscriminately applied to the same Subject ; that is, that the Father cannot directly be said to be the Son, nor the Son the Father.
But before His departure from the world the Saviour promised His disciples that He would pray the Father to send them another “Comforter,” or Advocate, to take His place (John 14:16), and again that He Himself would send this Comforter (ibid. 16:7), whom He calls the “Spirit of Truth,” and the Holy Ghost. We learn that shortly after His Ascension this promise was fulfilled, and thenceforward the Holy Ghost appears so prominently as the Divine Administrator of the Church that the Gospel dispensation is fitly described as the “ministration of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:8). The Holy Ghost is spoken of in terms which imply a Divine nature. He is said to “search the deep things of God,” which reason tells us no created being can do (1 Cor. 2:10, 11); spiritual blessings are invoked from Him conjointly with the Father and the Son (2 Cor. 13:14); to Him, and also to God, spiritual operations such as the New Birth (John 3:5), the dispensing of gifts (1 Cor. 12:11), the inspiring of prophets (1 Pet. 1:11), are ascribed. And lest we should suppose that nothing more is meant than an emanation, or influence, from God, He is invested, equally with the Father and the Son, with a personal character; the Holy Ghost teaches (John 14:26); appoints ministers (Acts 13:2); sends an apostle on a mission (Acts 10:19); bestows gifts as He wills (1 Cor. 12:11); can be “grieved” (Ephes. 4:30); makes intercession for the saints (Rom. 8:26). And He must be distinguished from the Father and the Son in the same way and to the same extent as they are distinguished from each other. He who is sent by the Father and the Son cannot be either of them as such; if He receives of Christ (John 16:14) He cannot, so far, be Christ; if He descended upon the Saviour at His baptism, while a voice from heaven proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son” (therefore the Father’s voice), His could not be the voice.
Finally, in appointing the initiatory rite of the Christian Church, our Lord formally associates the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, as the sacred Name into which converts are to be baptized (Matt. 28:19).
The above statement, which contains little more than an enumeration and collation of passages of the New Testament, presents to us the facts on which we are to reason; and the problem is, as in the analogous case of natural philosophy, to frame an hypothesis which, though it may not be without difficulties, shall best comprise the whole of the facts, without omission or distortion. Our starting point is the fundamental truth of revealed religion, viz., the unity of the Godhead, which is as strongly implied in the New Testament as it was expressed in the Old (Mark 12:29, 1 Cor. 8:4, 1 Tim. 2:5). Where the Father is, there is the Son, and there is the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost, e.g., was promised to abide with Christ’s disciples, but immediately afterwards it is the Father and the Son in reference to whom the same promise is made (John 14:23); and so S. Paul prays that “Christ may dwell” in the Christian’s heart by faith (Ephes. 3:17), which heart is also described as the habitation of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). Yet, unless the language of Scripture was framed to mislead, in the unity of the Godhead there are three Divine Subjects, or what, for want of a better term, we call Persons, to whom distinct offices in the work of redemption are assigned: to the Father election (Ephes. 1:4), to the Son atonement (ibid. 7), and to the Holy Ghost sanctification (2 Thess. 2:13). And under this, its practical aspect, the doctrine reposes in many minds, which accept it, as thus stated, without difficulty, and are only conscious, in a general way, of a threefold causality in the work of salvation, which commends itself to the felt necessities of the Christian life.
To what extent the doctrine of the Holy Trinity formed part of the Jewish revelation is to Christians rather a matter of interest than importance. It could not be expected that as long as redemption itself was subject of prophecy or type, and not a fact, a doctrine so intimately connected with it should have been revealed as it is under the Christian dispensation: the revelation of the Godhead naturally kept pace with the unfolding of His purposes towards fallen man. The facts may be thus summed up: there are preparations in the Old Testament for the doctrine, but no explicit statement of it. If we cannot argue from the plural Elohim, nor from the Theophanies of the Old Testament, no more can the fact be overlooked that this Elohim, the abstract Deity whom the heathen ignorantly worshipped (Acts 17:23), manifests Himself in Israel under the name Jehovah, the God of history and revelation, entering into mundane relations with the chosen people. That the “Angel of the Lord,” of whom mention is so often made in the earlier Books of Moses, was no created being appears from his being identified with Jehovah Himself; and yet a distinction is made between Jehovah and the angel; the angel is sent by Jehovah, though Himself bearing the sacred name, i.e. being partaker of the Divine nature (Exod. 23:20, 21). Moses cannot see God as He is in Himself, but a shaded ray of the Divine Glory passes before him (Exod. 33:22). In the prophets, especially Isaiah, another phase appears: The “Spirit of the Lord” confers on the prophet his mission (Isa. 48:16); is to abide in all His fullness on the predicted Branch of David (Isa. 11:1, 2); and to display Himself, at a future time, in a manifold variety of gifts (Isa. 44:3, Joel 2:28). In the Book of Proverbs the “Wisdom of God” assumes a hypostatical character: it was “set up” (anointed) “from everlasting, or ever the earth was”; “brought forth when there were no depths”; was with God “daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him,” yet also “rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth, with the sons of men” (Prov. 8:23–31). With the light of the New Testament reflected on them, these notices of the Old seem to acquire significance, and stand in the same relation to the later revelation as the Law itself did to the Gospel – as a prefigurement and anticipation; but more than this can hardly be found in them
§ 24. The Immanent Trinity
The two principal heresies on the subject of the Holy Trinity were Sabellianism and Arianism, for information on which the reader is referred to the works which treat of the history of dogma. Sabellius, a presbyter of Ptolemais in the middle of the third century, in order to avoid the semblance of Tritheism in the doctrine of the Church, taught that in the Godhead itself there is no distinction of Persons, but that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are only different manifestations of the One Supreme Deity, who assumed these names and corresponding functions for the purposes of redemption only (προς τας εκάστοτε χρείας), revealing Himself under a different character (Persona) as occasion required. Arianism, on the contrary, so strongly distinguished the Persons as to “divide the substance,” subordinating the Son to the Father as the creature to the Creator, and the Holy Ghost to the Son. Both, it will be seen, tended ultimately to the same result, viz., such a unity of the Divine Being as excluded any essential and eternal distinction of the Persons; but in Sabellianism this was attained by making the Persons merely dramatic parts which could be put on and off, in Arianism by robbing the Second and Third Persons of the proper attributes of Deity.
The Arian heresy, after a long struggle, was expelled from the Church, and under the name of Unitarianism exists only in bodies external to it. It laboured, from the first, under the twofold absurdity of introducing a species of being intermediate between the Creator and the creature, and of teaching the union of two created beings in the one Person of Christ. But Sabellian tendencies, under various names, such as Modalism, etc., occasionally reappear within the sacred precincts; and indeed this mode of explaining the statements of Scripture is not unlikely to be the first to suggest itself to a mind impressed with the difficulties of the subject, and anxious to save the great truths of the unity of the Godhead, and of what seems connected therewith, His proper personality. For how, it may be urged, can such a personality be conceived as divided among three Subjects? That the orthodox doctrine is not chargeable with this error will be explained hereafter. The question now before us is, What does Scripture teach on the subject? Does it represent the distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, as meaning merely that to us, and in time, God exhibits Himself in a threefold aspect, or as belonging to the Divine nature itself, and immanent therein? Are the operationes ad extra founded on operationes ad intra, i.e. upon relations in the Godhead itself, and therefore eternal? Or, to put it in another way, Does the τρόπος αποκαλύψεως (the mode of revelation) imply a τρόπος υπάρξεως (a mode of existence)? This is the question with which our first Article “of faith in the Holy Trinity” is properly concerned.
The first remark to be made is that as God reveals Himself, so He must be presumed to be; otherwise the revelation would convey inaccurate notions of His nature. If in Scripture the salvation of man is derived from a threefold causality, or from God as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and never from more, e.g. a fourth, this raises a strong presumption that the terms signify more than mere aspects under which the one God may be regarded, mere characters which He assumes as need requires. For, on the Sabellian hypothesis, what reason can be assigned why He should reveal Himself under precisely three, and not any number that may be imagined, seeing He stands towards the creature in manifold relations? Apart from an immanent, or ontological Trinity, the Trinity of redemption seems to have no proper foundation, and to become an arbitrary assumption. But to the Scripture testimony. Let us note, then, the language of S. John respecting that Word of Life, which he had seen with his eyes and his hands handled: had seen as the Christ of history, the Word become flesh. In the first chapter of his Gospel he tells us that “in the beginning” (εν αρχη = בְּרֵאשִית, Gen. 1:1), that is, at the commencement of creation, this Word did not then first come into existence, but was actually in being (η not εγένετο); thus disconnecting His existence altogether from the idea of time, which is coincident with creation. Further, that the Word was with God (προς τον Θεόν), in closest fellowship with God, yet in some sense distinct from God. And then, apparently to obviate Philo’s doctrine of a δεύτερος Θεος, he adds, “and the Word was God” (Θεος ην ο λόγος). If the first clause hardly by itself establishes the eternal existence of the Word, the third supplies the defect; for if He is God He must be eternal. Here then, the Deity of the Word, and a distinction in the Godhead, are both intimated, and this without reference to creation or redemption; for it is not until the third verse that we are told that “through Him all things were made,” in accordance with the usage of Scripture, which ascribes creation to the Father, but through the Son (Col. 1:16, Heb. 1:2). [This seems to imply a personal distinction, and not merely that between the λόγος ενοιάθετος and the λόγος προφορικός of Philo and Theophilus. Compare Cor. 8:6: Θεος ο πατηρ, εξ ου τα πάντα ... Κύριος Ιησους Χριστος δι’ ου τα πάντα.] In the eighteenth verse we again find the Word described as in closest connection with, and yet distinct from, God (εις τον κόλπον = προς τον Θεον), but under another name, viz., “the only-begotten Son,” a relation which necessarily implies the corresponding one of Father. This use of the word “Son,” in an absolute sense, and abstractedly from the Incarnation, is common with S. John (e.g. 5:19, 8:36), but occurs also in the other Gospels (Matt. 11:27).
Another class of passages which deserves notice is composed of those in which the Son is described as the “Image,” or counterpart, of the invisible God. Thus Heb. 1:1–3, the writer, after referring to the revelation of God in and through His Son, i.e. the incarnate Word, proceeds to speak of that Son’s preexistence, as the Maker and Upholder of all things, and describes the Son as the “brightness of God’s glory, and the express image of His person”; which latter words, according to the best commentators, describe not the revelation of God’s glory in the incarnate Son, but the identity of the Son with the Father as regards His Divine nature [ών, as in John 1:1; not γενόμενος. On the whole passage see Bleek’s Commentary.]; and yet seem to establish a distinction between them analogous to that between the splendour of light and its source, or between a seal and its impression ; and this without reference to creation or redemption. With this may be compared Col. 1:15, in which Christ is described not only as πρωτότοκος, i.e., in existence before the birth of creation, but as the “image” εικων “of the invisible God,” God as the Father contemplating Himself in the Person of the Son, and therefore not formally the same with the Son. [As Olshausen (Com.) remarks, the whole passage speaks of Christ under a twofold aspect: verses 15–17, as He is the Logos, antecedently to time; verses 18–20, as He is incarnate, and the Head of the Church.] And in a corresponding passage, Phil. 2:6, the expression “in the form of God,” which, from its opposition to the “form of a servant,” is now usually held to relate to the preexistence of the Logos, implies, like the word “image” above, a certain distinction from God, when God is considered under another aspect, viz., as the ground or fountain of Deity. [This passage, as is well known, admits of two leading interpretations, one applying the whole to Christ in His human nature, the other applying verse 6 to Him as the Logos, and verses 7–11 to Him as incarnate. The former was generally adopted by the Lutheran theologians, as furnishing ground for their doctrine of the communication of Divine properties to the manhood of Christ; the latter by the Reformed. (See also Dr. Gifford on the Incarnation. – Ed.)]
As regards the Holy Ghost, if He searches the “deep things of God,” in a manner analogous to that in which the spirit of man “knows the things of a man” (1 Cor. 2:11) – and this Divine energy cannot be understood to apply merely to creation or redemption, – not only is the personality of the Holy Ghost indicated, but He appears as a distinct subject in the Godhead, a third relation of God to Himself not to be confounded with the other two.
The result seems to be that the New Testament, besides revealing the economical Trinity, or the Trinity as related to the Church and operative ad extra, furnishes a revelation of the same Trinity as it exists intrinsically and is operative ad intra, and teaches that apart from all manifestations of God in creation or in redemption, He is in Himself not an abstract Monas, but a Trinity of immanent relations, expressed under the terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that is, that in the Godhead there exist energies which terminate in itself. To defend and illustrate this doctrine was the main object of the great writers, and of the councils, of the Church for several centuries after the Apostolic age; and the result is seen in the statements of the Ecumenical Creeds.
§ 25. Ecclesiastical Definitions
The doctrine of the Church, as laid down at the second Constantinopolitan Council (A.D. 381), may be summed up in the words of the Athanasian Creed: “We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost; but the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.” “The Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten; the Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten; the Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.”
Let us first ask, What does the word Person here mean? The idea we commonly attach to it is that of an individual; and a Trinity of persons in one Godhead might be supposed to resemble the classification of three individuals, John, Peter, Thomas, under the one species, man. But this would be an erroneous conception of its meaning in the Creed. It would be equivalent to denying the numerical existence of the Godhead, for the species “man” is but an abstraction, having no existence outside the mind that frames it; that is, it would “divide the substance,” and lead to Tritheism. It must not be forgotten that what we mean by personality belongs to the Divine essence as it is distinguished from the Trinitarian relations; just as the personality of a human father resides not in his paternity as a mere relation, but in his individuality as a man. The word persona, of which Person is the translation, properly signifies a dramatic part, or character; and was adopted, as Augustine tells us, [“Sed quia nostra loquendi consuetudo jam obtinuit ut hoc intelligatur cum dicimus essentiam (ουσία) quod intelligitur cum dicimus substantiam (υπόστασις), non audemus dicere unam essentiam, tres substantias, sed unam essentiam vel substantiam, tres autem personas: quemadmodum multi Latini ista tractantes et digni auctoritate dixerunt cum alium modum aptiorem non invenirent quo enuntiarent quod sine verbis intelligerent” (De Trin. lib. v. c. 10).] by the Latins on account of the poverty of their language, which has no word exactly corresponding to the υπόστασις [The word πρόσωπον would have exactly corresponded to the Latin “persona,” and it is actually used by J. Damasc. as equivalent to υπόστασις (Χρη δε γινώσκειν ως οι άγιοι πατέρες υπόστασιν και πρόσωπον το αυτο εκάλεσαν – Dial. c. 43); but it fell into disuse, lest it might lead to Sabellianism.] of the Greeks, the term employed by the latter to denote each of the three Subjects of the Holy Trinity. The meaning of persona, then, must be determined by that of hypostasis. Now this term, as distinguished from essence (ουσία), signifies the Divine being when viewed in connection with a particular “Personal property” (Proprietas personalis), [In Greek, υποστατίκη ιδιοτης. See J. Damasc. De Fid. Orth. lib. i. 138. “Character hypostaticus, sive proprietas personalis, est relatio in actu personali fundata, personam in esse certae personae constituens, et per oppositionem relativam realem ab alia persona distinctionem inferens” (Hollaz, p. i. c. 2, q. 8).] that is, the property which compels us to make a distinction between the Persons; which in the first Person is paternity, in the Second filiation, and in the Third procession; so that the Father means God considered as begetting, the Son God considered as begotten, and the Holy Ghost God considered as proceeding (essentia divina cum proprietatibus personalibus). The personal properties flow from acts immanent in the Divine Being (opera ad intra), viz., generation (active) the act of the Father, generation (passive) the act of the Son, and spiration (procession (passive)) the act of the Holy Ghost; [It may be asked, How can the generatio passiva, the being begotten of the Son; and the spiratio passiva, the being breathed, or proceeding, of the Holy Ghost, be described as acts, when they seem more like passivities (if such a word may be used)? And we know that God, as actus purissimus, is incapable of being acted upon. But when, as in this case, the subject and the object are the same, the passive form is merely grammatical; e g. I think of myself, and I am thought of by myself, are identical in meaning. Therefore the procession of the Holy Ghost is really an act of God considered as proceeding; and in like manner the generatio passiva of the Son is an act of God considered as begotten, though the corresponding active term cannot here be used, on account of the special relation between Father and Son (Twest. ii. 246, to whom the author is indebted for this remark).] and as these acts cannot be ascribed indiscriminately to the three Persons, so far forth as they are Persons, we have the well-known canon, “Opera ad intra divisa sunt” – the immanent acts of the Trinity belong respectively to only one Person. [Thus “active generation,” an opus ad intra, belongs only to the Father; but “creation,” an opus ad extra, is the work of the whole Trinity.] Thus the three Persons are not three Gods, but God under three inner relations, or modes of subsistence (τρόποι υπάρξεως, modi subsistendi). These relations, however, are not merely creations of our minds, not merely relations of God to the world which may be supposed as ceasing when the occasion ceases: they have an eternal ground of subsistence in the Divine nature itself, or in the language of the schools, they depend not upon ratio ratiocinans, but upon ratio ratiocinata. There is no actual distinction between the “substance” and the hypostatical character of each Person taken singly: God the Father is very God, with all the fullness of the Divine attributes and perfections, and so is God the Son, and so is God the Holy Ghost; [This is what is meant by the περιχώρηος, “circumincessio, immanentia,” of old writers; viz., that the Father is in the Son, the Son in the Father, and the Holy Ghost in both: and it hardly deserves the censure bestowed upon it, and kindred scholastic terms, by Abp. Whately (Logic, App. Person). These terms are attempts, more or less successful, to translate Divine mysteries into human language. “Singula sunt in singulis, et omnia in singulis, et singula in omnibus, et omnia in omnibus, et unum omnia” (Aug. De. Trin. vi. 12).] paternity, filiation, and, procession, adding nothing in each case to the Divine essence. But when the Persons are considered collectively, these distinctions become in some sense real, for otherwise there would be no distinction, except in our minds, between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [“Relatio ad essentiam comparata non differt re sed ratione tantum; comparata autem ad oppositam relationem habet virtute oppositionis reale discrimen” (T. Aquinas, p. i. q. 39, art. 1).]: God is not άλλο και άλλο, but certainly άλλος και άλλος: the Divine essence (or “substance”) is in the Father αγεννήτως, in the Son γεννήτος, and in the Holy Ghost; εκπορεύτως; yet this does not affect the simplicity of the Divine nature, for according to the ancient Canon, “Relations do not compound” (are not constituent parts of a thing), but merely “distinguish”; e.g. if John is the father of Thomas, the relation distinguishes John from Thomas, but does not divide John into two parts, himself and his paternity. There is a distinction (as Keckermann illustrates it), and in some sense a real one, between the degree of light at noonday and that at twilight; and yet degrees of this kind do not affect the composition of light. In fact, distinct relations in the Godhead no more introduce into it the idea of composition than do the distinct quiescent attributes (infinite, eternal, immense, unchangeable, etc.). It will be seen, then, that the word Person in the Creeds must mean something very different from what it does in common speech; and in fact, as J. Damasc. remarks, while in created things the distinction of individuals or persons exists in fact and their common nature only in conception (John, Thomas, etc., are actually existing persons, their common nature man is a logical entity), the opposite holds good in the doctrine of the Trinity; – the common nature, or essence, of the Godhead exists in fact, and possesses real personality, and the personal distinctions, though not indeed logical abstractions, yet have no distinct will or intelligence apart from the nature in which they inhere as relations. Yet they are so far real that they constitute subjects which cannot be used as predicates: e.g. as Thomas is a subject which cannot be the predicate of any one but Thomas (not like “man,” which may be predicated of any number of individuals), so the Father cannot be a predicate of the Son, nor the Son of the Father, nor the Holy Ghost of either. And with this imperfect notion of a Trinitarian “Person” we must rest content: and with a not less imperfect one of the difference between “generation” and “procession” as applied to God. In truth, these are points which, pushed beyond a certain limit, bring us too near “the light which no man can approach unto” (1 Tim. 6:16), and in reflecting on which we shall do well, with Augustine, never to forget the inherent limitations of human reason.
But if the Father alone is God αγεννήτως, while the Son is so γεννήτος, and the Holy Ghost εκπορεύτως, does not this introduce something like subordination among the three Persons, so that Arius may seem to have been unjustly accused of heresy? If the subsistence of the Son is grounded in that of the Father and the subsistence of the Holy Ghost in that of the Father and the Son (as in fact the Father is sometimes called by orthodox writers πηγη Θεότητος, fons et origo Trinitatis), how is the statement of the Creed to be understood, “And in this Trinity none is afore or after other, none is greater or less than another”? Unquestionably there is a difference, but one that does not necessarily imply a gradation of dignity, or at any rate inferiority of nature. The difference consists not in reference to time, for all three Persons are co-eternal; nor in reference to essence, for all three are God; but in reference to the order of subsistence (ordo subsistendi), according to which the Father is the first, the Son the second, and the Holy Ghost the third Person. The ideas of finite and infinite, and generally the category of quality, belong to a thing itself, not to the modes of its subsistence: as, e.g., the human relation of father and son does not imply that the son is inferior in nature, but merely that he owes his existence to his father, who in this case must be antecedent in time. If we remove the element of priority of time, which necessarily inheres in the human relation, and conceive an eternal generation, we arrive at the Catholic doctrine, that while a certain inequality must be admitted, the three Persons are, as regards their Deity, co-equal. So that the Son as God is not inferior to the Father as God, but the former as a Person of the Holy Trinity stands to the latter as a Person of the same Trinity in the relation of begotten to begetting. Nor should it be forgotten that when we say the Son has His subsistence in the Father, we cannot, indeed, affirm the direct converse, that the Father has His subsistence in the Son; but we can say that paternity, the “personal property” of the Father, could not be conceived without the “filiation” of the Son, and that to this extent the Father is not without the Son; and the same remark applies to the relation (“spiration”) between them and the Holy Ghost.
In contrast with the opera ad intra, acts which terminate in the Deity itself, are the opera ad extra, acts in which God enters into relations with the creature: and to the Father is especially assigned the work of creation, to the Son that of redemption, and to the Holy Ghost that of sanctification. With respect to these the rule is, Opera ad extra sunt indivisa; i.e., in them the three Persons cooperate to the result. When, therefore, a work ad extra is ascribed to any one Person by himself, the others have a share in it; in other words, when one Person only is named, the name is to be taken not υποστατικως but ουσιουδως, not as referring to the Person but to the substance. Thus, when one person is addressed in prayer, the other two are simultaneously invoked. The incarnation especially belongs to the second Person, but Christ is also said to have been conceived of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 1:20): and we have seen above that to the Son, to the Holy Ghost, and to the Father, is indifferently ascribed indwelling in the Church: and in general, “Whatsoever things the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19). What reason then, it may be asked, is there for ascribing a special work to each Person? In attempting to answer this question, theologians experienced great difficulty. They remark, in general, that an order in working (ordo et modus agendi) may be expected to correspond to the order of subsistence (ordo subsistendi); and since, according to this latter, “the Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten; the Son is of the Father; and the Holy Ghost of the Father and the Son”; therefore such works as election and creation, which seem to be especially ex nihilo, are appropriated to the Father, while others, as redemption and sanctification, which are not of so absolute a character, as being performed in time, are more properly connected with the second and third Persons. And this is the meaning of the rule, Opera ad extra tribus Personis communia sunt, salvo tamen earum ordine et discrimine; or, as it is otherwise expressed, special works are attributed to each Person terminative: e.g. the atonement is the work of the whole Trinity, but it “terminates,” or finds its completion, in the second Person; and the special Divine presence in the Church is the work of the whole Trinity, but it terminates in the third Person.
The procession of the Holy Ghost was, as is well known, the occasion of a schism between the Greek and the Latin Churches which exists to this day. The original Constantinopolitan Creed, while affirming the Deity of the Holy Ghost, had simply declared that He proceeds from the Father; which appeared insufficient to some of the Western Churches. By Augustine the procession from both Father and Son was taught; and under the influence of his great name the word Filioque came to be introduced into the Creed, and received formal sanction in the third Council of Toledo, A.D. 589. This gave umbrage to the Greeks, who refused to admit the addition, partly on exegetical grounds, but principally because they objected to any change being made in the Creed without the consent of the whole Church. As regards the usage of Scripture, the Greeks urged that the Holy Ghost is not said to proceed from the Son, but only from the Father (John 16:26); but the Latins replied that, though the term “proceeding” may not be used, others equivalent to it are, as, e.g., “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9), “the Spirit of His Son” (Gal. 4:6), compared with the “Spirit of your Father” (Matt. 10:20); if this last means “proceeding,” why should not the former? They referred also to the symbolical action of our Lord, when, after His resurrection, He breathed on the Apostles, using the words “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22); and to such passages as, “All things that the Father hath are Mine” (John 16:15); inferring from the latter, that since Procession from the Father is the Father’s, it must also belong to the Son. But especially they insisted, with reason, on the fact that the sending of the Holy Ghost is, in express words, attributed both to the Father and the Son (John 14:26, 15:26); with reason, because mission in time corresponds to procession in eternity. Some of the Greeks were willing to use the formula that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son; but this was objected to by the Latins on the ground that it savoured of Arianism, while the double procession seemed to the other party to affect their favourite tenet of the Father’s being πηγη Θεότητος. But, as Anselm observes, the ground of subsistence of Father, Son and Spirit is not that in which they are distinct (the relationes oppositae), but that in which they are one (the essentia, or “substance”): therefore, if the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father (in His Divine essence), He must also proceed from the Son. But why may it not, by parity of reasoning, be inferred from the generation of the Son from the Father, that He is also generated from the Holy Ghost? Because the necessity of an “opposed relation” stands in the way. Filiation is opposed to paternity, but spiration is not opposed to generation; and so it might happen that the Son would be conceived as both generated and proceeding, and the Holy Ghost as both proceeding and generated; and thus the Son and the Holy Spirit would constitute but one Person, for want of an “opposition of relation” between themselves. This is supplied by the relation of spirans and spiratus: the necessary caution being added that Father and Son are to be conceived, not as a twofold, but as a single Principle of spiration. The dispute culminated with mutual excommunications in the eleventh century, and has never since been adjusted.
§ 26. Natural Analogies
At an early period attempts were made, not indeed to establish, but to illustrate the doctrine from various sources: some of which are proofs of the pious zeal rather than of the judgment of their. authors. But that derived from the human consciousness is of a more solid character. Augustine here led the way and is followed by the schoolmen. If a man, he observes, is created in the image of God, it may be expected that in the mind, or its faculties, some resemblance will be found to the Archetype. Now if we consider the Mind itself in the act of knowing and loving, we find three aspects under which it presents itself: the Mind as subject, a knowledge of itself, and the love which springs from that knowledge; and yet these are really one: or, if we consider the principal faculties of the Mind, we again find them to be three, viz., Memory, Intelligence, and Will; and these three also inhere in one subject. Apart from Augustine’s particular theory, it is a fact that in our mental operations ad intra, i.e. abstractedly from external things, we can distinguish between the Mind which makes itself an object of contemplation (the subject), the Mind which is thus contemplated (the object), and the Mind which, by the union of the two, attains its full consciousness: yet it is the same Mind, or Ego, which is thus conceived under a threefold aspect. The analogy must be transferred with due caution to the Divine essence; yet it may serve to explain how neither the unity nor the simplicity of that essence is affected by energies which terminate within itself. The orthodox doctrine is, in fact, opposed not to the unity of the Divine Being, but to the notion of an abstract, impersonal Monas, without will, or affection, the Monotheism of Judaism and Deism. If the fullness of life, the plenary consciousness of blessedness, is to be ascribed, as it surely is, to the Godhead, the Trinitarian hypothesis of God generating from eternity a counterpart or image of Himself, and dwelling with ineffable complacency upon that image, is the only one which supplies such an idea, and effectually secures the αυτάρκεια, or self-sufficiency, of the Divine Being. Hence, where the Trinitarian doctrine is rejected, the remedy is sought in Pantheistic theories; as in modern skeptical philosophy. The Divine Monas, deprived of living movement in Himself, comes first to a consciousness of Himself in the act of creation, and maintains that consciousness only in and through the ceaseless evolutions, the manifold movements, of the universe; that is, God and nature are practically identified.
§ 27. Concluding Remarks
The question may be asked, Of what value, at the present day, are these abstruse distinctions and the technical phraseology in which they are clothed? Do they not seem invented only to perplex plain minds, and furnish matter of disparaging comment to the skeptic? What bearing have they on practical piety? Why should we not relegate them to the lumber-room of antiquity, and fall back upon the simplicity of Scripture, distinguishing between the revealed facts and the theories which have been raised upon them? As regards the former demand, it may be replied that it is as impossible for us to fall back on the simplicity of Scripture as to put back the dial of time and live in the second or third century. It is with the (legitimate) development of doctrine as it is with the progress of constitutional polity; in either case, to revert to earlier forms is impossible, because it is impossible to obliterate the traces of the past. For good or for evil, controversies arose respecting the Person of Christ, and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, even within the pale of the Church; controversies which were vitally important. It was to meet the ever-shifting forms of error that Creeds were framed, and from time to time enlarged; and as long as there is danger of the revival of these, or similar forms of error, the Creeds must be retained, at least in substance. And such a danger never can be pronounced imaginary, for human nature remains the same from age to age, and phases of thought which seemed to have lived their day, may at any time reappear under new forms and in unexpected quarters. A composition like the Athanasian Creed, with its laboured and nicely balanced statements, every one of them bristling with controversy, may not be a very edifying study; but the question is, Could the Church have guarded the true Scriptural doctrine against heretical subtleties without resorting to similar subtleties on her side? It does not appear that she could have done so; and it may be affirmed that if the ancient controversies were again to come up, they would have to be met by the same weapons, and in the main determined in the same sense, if the substance of revealed doctrine was to be preserved. Particular expressions may be open to doubt whether they are happily chosen; but if the Creeds, as a whole, were expunged from the literature of the Church, it seems we should be compelled before long to draw up formularies substantially the same, as terms of communion. They may not be the truth in its Scriptural form, but they are the casket that contains it, and preserves it from essential depravation. In short, like our first parents we have come to the knowledge of good and evil, and it were a mere fiction of the imagination to suppose we can revert to a state of paradisaical innocence. Moreover, it is not the province of Scripture to supply summaries of doctrine, or defensive statements against heresy; Scripture furnishes the materials which it is the office of the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to explain and to harmonize in such a manner as to be an adequate expression of her faith.
With respect to the other point, that we should distinguish between the revealed facts and theories based upon them, we ask, What are the facts? If it be replied, The facts of the Gospel history, e.g., that Jesus of Nazareth was born of the Virgin, died on the Cross, rose again, and ascended to heaven, and that the Holy Ghost came down, with visible signs, on the day of Pentecost, we must remind the objector that the doctrines of revelation which connect themselves with these facts are themselves facts as much as the visible events, but facts for our knowledge of which we depend upon Divine revelation. Who, e.g., or what, was the Jesus who died on the Cross? Who, or what, is the Holy Spirit who came according to Christ’s promise? What relation, or connection, exists between Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father? What was the import, and the effect, of Christ’s death? What the offices He discharges now that He has ascended to heaven? The answers to these questions, if Scripture furnishes them, are as really facts as the events that met the eye. An atonement has been made for the sins of the world: this, if true, is not a mere doctrine in the sense of an opinion or theory; it is a fact just as much as the visible death of Christ, of which it forms the invisible side, or aspect. In this enlarged sense of the word the facts, so far from being independent of the theories, are the “theories” themselves, only not formally arranged or clothed in the current language of the age. They are independent of the theories so far as this, that they might be translated into other language than that of our present Creeds, provided the substance were retained; but somehow or other, the substance must be retained if the revelation of God is to be preserved in its integrity. Thus, as regards the present subject, the nature of the Divine being in Himself is not a mere hypothesis, but a fact – most mysterious and incomprehensible – but still a fact of revelation; and no creed which did not declare it more or less explicitly could lay claim to be an adequate representation of the teaching of Scripture on the subject, and therefore of the appointed measure of our faith.
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