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A review of Dr. J.P. Smith's Scripture testimony to the Messiah online

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divine principles, is a fact which has attracted much attention, and the pro-
per explanation of which has been a subject of much discussion. By many
he is considered as a believer in the Trinity, very nearly as it is received by
most Christians. Others, sensible of the deviation of his doctrine from re-
puted orthodoxy, have, according to their own views, either condemned him
as corrupting the traditions of his people with Platonism, or considered him
as afTording evidence favourable to the Arian doctrine ; whilst a third party,
mtic!) more justly, as it seems to us, have contended, that the three principles
of Phiio are not beings or persons, though sometimes figuratively spoken of
with personal characters, but only attributes, and that he has derived them
entirely from his philosophy, not at all from the traditionary religion of his

Our first remark is, that this writer is not always content with making
three principles in the Divine Nature, but sometimes appears to represent
God himself as a distinct intelligence presiding over the three principles, and
sometimes also increases the number of these principles. There is a very
remarkable passage in the book irspi (pvyooZuv (concerning fugitives) in which
the author, allegorizing the precepts of the Mosaic law respecting the cities
of refuge, absolutely speaks of six different principles in the Divine Nature
all inferior to God himself, being really intended as no more than attributes,
and yet having, apparently, distinct intelligence ascribed to them. The
passage is long, but we think important : it is as follows :

" I must next explain which they are, and why their number is six Is
not, then, the most ancient, the strongest and best, not city only, but Metro-
polis, the Divine JVord to which, above all, it is most protituhle to flee ? But
the other five colonies, as it were, are powers of him who uttered the ivord,
of vvhich the chief is the creative, by means of which the Maker, by his word,
fabricated the world. The second is the royal, by means of which, huving
created, he rules what he has made : the third is the benignant, through
which the Maker pities, and is merciful to, his own work : the fourth is the
legislative quality, through which he forbids those things which ought not to
he. Fair and well fortified cities all of them, excellent places of refuge for
those who are worthy of being saved. Good and humane is the appointment,
fitted to excite and encourage hope. Who else could have exhibited such
an abundance of beneficial things, according to the variety of cases of persons
sinning unintentionally, who have not all the same strength or the same
weakness? The intention is, that he who is capable of running swiftly should
press on, without stopping to take breath, to that supreme divine word which
is the fountain of wisdom; that, drinking from its stream, instead of death he
may find as a reward eternal life ; that he who is not equally swift should flee
to the creative power, which Moses names God, because all things were dis-
posed and arranged by it ... . but that he who is not sufficiently active

for this should take refuge with the royal power But to him who is

not sufficiently quick to reach the above-mentioned stations, as being far
removed, other nearer goals are fixed of useful powers, the merciful, and that
\\\\\q\\ prescribes ivhut should be done ; and that which forbids what ought not

to be done These are the six cities vvhich are c^\^A places of refuge,

of which five are figuratively represented, and have their resemblance in the
sacred things. The commanding and forbidding powers (have as their types)
the copy of the laws laid up in the ark of the covenant ; but the merciful
power, the cover of the ark itself, which is called the mercy-seat ; and the


creative and 7'oyal powers, the two winf^ed cherubim placed over it. But tlie
divine K^ord, superior to all these, has not taken any visible form, as bearing a
resemblance to no object of sense, being- the very image of God, the most
ancient of all objects of thought, placed nearest, there being no separating
interval, to him who alone truly exists; (possesses an independent existence;)
for it is said (he here quotes Exod. xxv. 22), * I will speak to thee from
above the mercy-seat between the two cherubim,' so that the IFord shouhl
be, as it were, a charioteer to the other powers, but he that uttereth the word,
as the person riding in the chariot, who gives his command to the charioteer
in all things for the right direction of the whole. He, then, who is not only
free from voluntary guilt, but has not even involuntarily committed crime,
having God himself as his inheritance, ivill dwell in him alone ; but they who
not intentionally but undesignedly have sinned, will have, as places of refuge,
the cities which have been spoken of, abounding in good things and wealthy.
Of these cities of refuge three are beyond the river, far removed from our
race. Which are these? The Word of our Ruler and his creative and royal
powers. For to them belong the heaven and the whole world. But neigh-
bouring and contiguous to us, placed near to the mortal race of men, which
alone is liable to sin, are the three on this side of the river, the merciful
power, that which commands ivhat should be done, and that which forbids things
not to be done. For these are close at hand to us." — Philo de Profugis (pp.
464, 465, ed. Turnebi et Hoeschelii, Paris, 1640).

It is plain from this passage that Philo recognizes one Supreme and only
true God, whom he placed above all those divine energies or attributes
which he endowed with a sort of personality, much in the same manner as
Proclus (Coram, in Timseum, Plat. Lib. ii.) contends that Plato himself con-
sidered the Supreme God as presiding over his three principles. Again, we
see here that Philo is led by no better reason than the desire of allegorizing
the six cities of refuge, to distinguish six divine principles instead of three,
which he divides into two triads, one superior to the other, but both inferior
to the Supreme God himself, whose qualities they all are. As to the nature
of the word, we perceive that Philo had no conception whatever of its pos-
sible incarnation or sensible appearance among men ; that he considered it
as really nothing more than the utterance or expression of the will of the
great Supreme ; and that in figuratively giving it a personal character, he
made it, though in some respects superior to the Divine attributes, yet infe-
rior and subject to God himself. The following passage affords very distinct
proof of the sense in which alone Philo attributed personal characters to the
Divine perfections. It is an allegorization of the beginning of Gen. xviii. :

*' For Abraham also coming with zeal, and haste, and great alacrity, orders
Sarah, who represents virtue, to hasten and mix three measures of fine meal,
and make hearth-cakes, when God, accompanied by his two principal powers,
his royalty and his goodness, He, in the midst of them, being one, produced
three images in the visual soul,'' (i. e, caused the visible appearance of three
persons, though the whole was but a manifestation of himself alone,) '* each
of which could by no means be measured, for God is incomprehensible, and
his powers are incomprehensible ; but he measures all things, for his goodness
is the measure of good men, his power is the measure of obedient men, but
he himself, the Sovereign, is the measure of all corporeal and incorporeal
things. Wherefore, these powers, obtaining the nature of rules and precepts,
are a means of estimating things inferior to them. These three measures,
then, it is good to have mingled and worked together in the soul, that being
persuaded that God is supremely exalted, who rises above his oivn powers, and
is either perceived without them, or manifested in them, it may receive the
impressions of his power and beneficence, and, being initiated into the most


perfect mysteries, nmy not readily utter those divine secrets, but usin^ them
cautiously, and preservino- silence upon them, may keep them sacred." —
(Philo Jud. de Sacriiiciis Abelis et Caini, p. 139, ed. Turn, et Hoesch,)

It seems justly to be inferred from this strange passage, in which Sarah is
made to represent the state of the wise man, virtue, and her action of mixing
the meal into cakes what is done by the philosophic mind, that Philo con-
sidered the different personations of the Deity, as distinct in the eyes of the
ignorant and vulgar, but as perceived by true wisdom, to be none of them
any other than God himself, and to have no real separate existence. We
suppose he here understands the appearance to Abraliam, as we have in a
preceding part of this article explained it, not of any three beings, human or
angelic, but of a triple mamfestation of the one only God, which he there-
fore fancifully represents as himself, and two of his attributes or powers ;
but his whole object is to establish that these powers, though seeming dis-
tinct from him, and apparently endowed with a separate personality, are
perceived by the reflecting and contemplative mind to be really but one and
the same being, and to be only the exhibitions or effects of his attributes.
In farther illustration of this subject, we must lay before our readers another
extract relating to the same portion of sacred history, though taken from a
different work of Philo, which seems fitted to remove every doubt respecting
his notion of persons or distinctions in the Divine Nature :

** When, therefore, the mind is enlightened by God as if it were noon-day,"
(shining upon it, as it were, with a noon-day brightness,) " and, being altoge-
ther filled with a light of intelligence, is freed from shadows by the splendour
diffused through it, it comprehends the three images of the one subject, one
being the reality, (the real existence,) the other two, shadows ivhich it throws ,
something like which happens also to objects in the light which is perceived
by the senses, for things standing or moving in it often give two shadows.
Let not, indeed, any one think that in speaking of God, the word shadows is
employed literally; it is but a figurative use of the word for the clearer
expression of the thing to be explained, since the truth is not thus. But any
one approaching the nearest possible to the truth might say, that the middle
one was the Father of all, who in the sacred Scriptures is called by the
peculiar name. He who is ; (the self -existent, an interpretation of Jehovah;)
but the powers on each side are the most ancient, and the most closely united
to * Him who is,' of which one is called the creative, the other the royal.
And the creative power is God, for it established and arranged the whole;
(deriving 0£o? from ©fw, to place or dispose ;) hut the roi/al power is the
Lord, for it is right that the Creator should rule over and govern that which
is created. (This remark shews the essential identity, according to Philo, of
the o'cative and governing- powers.) He then that is in the midtUe, attended
on each side by his powers, (or attributes,) affords to the acute understanding
an image sometimes of one, sometimes of three. Of one, ichen the soul, being
completely purified, having risen above not only the multitude of inferior,
(powers,) but also that pair which is near to the one, (the Monad,) hastens to
attain to the pure, simple, and in itself complete, idea. Of three, when not yet
initiated in high mysteries, it is still occupied with inferior matters, and is not
able to comprehend him vho exists without any other, by himself alone, other-
wise than by means of his acts, creation and government.'' — (Philo de Abra^
harao, pp. 366, 367, ed. Turnebi et Hoesch.)

It is very observable that the Divine word or logos is not at all mentioned
in either of the two passages last quoted, although it is not easy to conceive
how it could have been omitted, had Philo considered it as having a real
and distinct existence as a part of the Divine Nature. We have now seen

him at one time representing two triads of different degrees of inferiority to
the Supreme God, at the head of the first of which the logos was placed, at
another, constituting a triad of God himself and two of his perfections, with-
out at all introducing the logos ; and what we have seen of his meaning in
attributing personal characters to divine perfections, will prepare us for
understanding the language which has been so confidently appealed to by
the Christian defenders of mystical notions respecting the nature of him who
is called the " Word of God." We shall first state what appears to be the
true meaning of Philo in using the term logos^ and shall then take such
farther notice as may seem requisite of the supposition of his having em-
ployed the terra in two different senses, the one derived from the Platonic
philosophy, the other from the religious traditions of his countrymen, and of
the epithets he has given to his logos, which are supposed to prove its iden-
tity with the Messiah predicted in the Jewish Scriptures. First, then, we
believe that the logos of Philo really signifies the Divine intelligence or wis-
dom, a property or attribute of the Divine Nature, not a real person, or dis-
tinct subsistence, and has personal qualities ascribed to it only in the same
sense in which other Divine perfections or energies, as the creative and go-
verning powers, have a figurative personality ascribed to them by this fanciful
writer. To his Platonism, not to his religion, we attribute his doctrine on
this subject. The following passage may be considered as a very clear ex-
pression of his real meaning :

'* For God perceiving before-hand, by means of his Deity, that there could
iiever be a good copy without a good pattern, nor any sensible object, such
as not to deserve censure, unless it should correspond to an idea in the under-
standing as its archetype, having determined to form this visible world, first
formed an intellectual one, that using as a model that which was incorporeal
and most divine in its nature, he might complete the corporeal and newer
one as an exact resemblance of the older; containing in it as many species of
sensible things as the other did of intellectual (i. e. of those which existed in
the understanding only). The world, which consists of ideas only, it would
not he right in speaking or thinking to confine to any place, but we shall
vnderstand how it e^vists by considering' a similitude taken from our own affairs.
When a city is about to be founded by the munificence of a king, or of any
ruler possessing sovereign power, and adorning his good fortune by a dispo-
sition to liberality, there comes some person, skilful in architecture, and
having considered the advantages which the situation affords, first delineates
within himself almost all the parts of the intended city, its temples, gymnasia,
&c. Then the images of each being impressed, as it were on wax, in his
own mind, he thus forms an intellectual city, of which, exciting again the
forms in the memory with which he is furnished by nature, and tlius im-
pressing them yet more strongly, like a good workman looking to his pattern,
he begins to construct a proper union of stone and wood, conforming the ma-
terial objects one to each of the immaterial ideas. And thus, in a great degree,
are we to think concerning God, who having determined to found this great
city, first conceived in his mind its forms, from which, having constructed an
intellectual world, he made use of it as a pattern in forming the sensible
world. In like manner, then, as in the case of the architect, the precon-
ceived city has no external existence, but is only impressed on the mind of
the artificer, so neither has the ideal world any other place than the Divine
word, (log-OS, reason or intellect,) which arranged all things — for what other
place could there be among the divine powers fit for receiving, I will not say
all ideas, but even any one of the simplest? .... But if any one should wish
to employ plainer tcords, he ii-ould say, that the intellectual world (the world
of ideas existing only in the Divine mind) is nothing different from the logos
if God creating the world : for neither is the intellectual city any thing


different from the reasoning (or meditation XnyKTfA.oq) of the architect design-
ing- to buihl the city, conceived in his mind." — (Philo de Mundi Opificio, pp.
3—5, cd. Turn, et Hoesch.)

We add a short extract from another treatise :

" God is the first li^ht : and he is not only li^ht, but the archetype of all
other light ; rather is elder and more exalted than the archetype, having the
word as his copy — for the copy, his most perfect word, is light, but he himself
is like no created thing."— (De Somniis, p. 5^6, ed. T. et H.)


** Moses says expressly that man was formed after the image of God, but if
the part (i. e. man, who is but a small part of the world) is an image of the
imag'c, (i. e. of the word, which is an image or transcript of God himself, and
which Philo means to say that Moses referred to, when he affirmed that man
was made in the image of God,) without doubt the whole species, this whole
sensible world is so too, which is a better resemblance than the human one
of the Divine image ; but it is evident that the archetypal image, (image or
reflection of God himself, giving form to all other things,) which we call the
intellectual (or ideal) world, must itself be the pattern of the forms of things,
the idea of ideas, the Word of God."— (De Mundi Opificio, p. 5, ed. T. et H.)

Once more :

" For nothing mortal can be formed after the image of the Supreme Being,
the father of all, but after that of the second God, who is his iiwrdy — Liber j.
Qucstionum et Solutionum apud Eusebium, Praep. Evang. Lib. vii. Cap. xiii.

Comparing this last with the preceding passage in which the logos is said
to be the God in whose image man was made, at the very moment when this
same logos is explained to be the ideal world conceived by God before his
creation of the sensible world, and, therefore, having no existence but as a
distinct conception of the Divine mind, no deity but as identical with God
himself, we obtain just notions as to the real meaning of this author's ob-
scure and figurative mode of expression, and plainly perceive, that though
this kind of language may have prepared the way for the corruption of
Christianity, it is not used by Philo himself to express any thing analogous
with the doctrines of reputed orthodoxy. We might confirm the view we
have given of the figurative character of what he says of the logos by refe-
rence to several of his statements on kindred subjects, as his describing the
world as the only and beloved son of God and his wisdom, (De Temulentia,
p. 244, ed. T. et H.,) and his representing the thoughts and determinations
of wise men as their spiritual children (de Vita Contemplativa, p. 899, ed.
T. et H.), which surely afford a sufficient comment on his calling the word
the son and the first-born son of God. It is observable, that although, in a
passage just referred to, he calls the sensible world the son of God and his
Wisdom, in another place he calls the logos, i. e. the ideal world, the pat-
tern according to which the sensible one was formed, by the same name,
which is enough to prove that the title is figuratively used. Many of Dr.
S.'s extracts from Philo, which indeed include most of those we have pro-
duced, will be found strongly supporting the view we have given of his doc-
trine, and all of them, we think, when examined in their connexion, will
harmonize with it. Dr. S. himself has fairly stated, that

*' The Word is represented as being the same to the Supreme Intellect
that speech is to the human ; and as being the conception, idea, or purpose of
the Creator, existing in the Divine mind previously to the actual formation



of his works.— If," he proceeds, " this paragraph were to be taken absolutely
and without restriction as a key to the other parts, our inquiry would be an-
swered ; and it would be summarily decided that all those other attributives
are nothing but personifications and allegories, thus variously and fancifully
representing the single idea of the original and eternal plan or design of the
Infinite Intelligencer— ^cn^t. Test. Vol. I. p. 595, 2nd ed.

Such has, in fact, been the decision of some of the ablest men who have
applied themselves to the subject — of Basnage, Souverain, Nye, and, above
all, of Mosbeim,* not now to mention others. What then is the argument
by which Dr. S. attempts to resist this conclusion ?

" This hypothesis," he says, " would involve the charge on the writer before
us of an extravagance and luxuriance of imagination and diction, which might
challenge all parallel among authors having the smallest pretensions to so-
briety of thought. — But Philo was no such preposterous writer. Unjustifiable
and of injurious tendency as is his favourite principle of interpretation, that
principle may be traced to the ambition of moulding revealed theology accord-
ing to his system of philosophy. It is, likewise, observable that his doctrine
concerning the word is, in a great measure, conveyed in the form of interpre-
tations of the supposed allegories of Scripture : and those interpretations are
professedly given as the literal meaning of the allegories. But no sane
writer could give interpretations of alleged enigmas in terms equally enigma-
tical with the things to be interpreted, or even more so." — Ibid. p. 596, 2nd ed.

We cannot say what may be the value of Philo's pretensions to sobriety of
thought, but we have quoted at length a passage in which he represents the
six cities of refuge as really meaning the Divine Logos and five other divine
attributes ; yet we have also quoted his own declaration, that neither this
divine logos nor these attributes are in any strict sense distinct from God
himself, or have any existence but as properties of his nature. Perhaps to
those who consider the distinction he draws between popular and philosophi-
cal modes of speaking on the subject, and who call to mind the extravagan-
cies and inconsistencies with which bis allegories abound, there may not ap-
pear any thing very wonderful in what Dr. S. regards as impossible ; at all
events, the fact is before us. In accommodation to a favourite system of
philosophy, and under the idea that the doctrine of the pure and simple unity
of God could only be comprehended by the most refined and contemplative
minds, Philo habitually attributed to certain qualities and energies of the Di-
vine nature a sort of figurative personality, and never scrupled in forming
his allegories to speak of them as, in a certain sense, distinct ; but we must
take his own explanation of what he really meant by this language, from
which we learn that the word, the creative, and other powers, stand in much
the same relation to the Divine Mind, that thoughts and volitions do to the
human mind.

The reason given by Dr. S. for identifying the logos of Philo with the
Messiah, that " otherwise it must be admitted that this writer has made no
mention of the Messiah at all," is most extraordinary, the want of other no-
tices than can be imagined to be conveyed by his use of this term being, in
fact, a sufHcient proof that he either was not much impressed with the hope
of his countrymen, or had some reason for avoiding its introduction in his
philosophical allegories.

* The learned reader will immediately perceive how much we are indebted to the
note of this distinguished man on the opinions of Philo, in his edition of Cudvvorth's
Intellectual System.


The notion of a double sense of the term logos — a philosophic, in which it
signifies the Divine intellect, or what is conceived in the Divine mind, and a
religious, in which it refers to a divine person, cannot be defended otherwise
than by shewing either that there are inconsistencies in the use of the term
which cannot be reconciled without such an assumption, or that there are
titles and epithets given to the logos which, necessarily implying distinct per-
sonality, cannot belong to the same logos, which the author affirms to have
been no more than the conception or purpose of the Creator. Now the in-
consistencies of Philo on this subject relate to no essential point, and are
really very trifling, considering his character as a writer ; and in the long
train of titles ascribed to the logos in different parts of his work, we do not

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Online LibraryBritish and Foreign Unitarian AssociationA review of Dr. J.P. Smith's Scripture testimony to the Messiah → online text (page 9 of 15)