Thomas Smyth.

Complete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D online

. (page 20 of 68)
Online LibraryThomas SmythComplete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D → online text (page 20 of 68)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ets and from Christ, we are instructed in regard to God ; not
from the Philosophers nor Epicurus. God hath chosen the
foolish things of the world, that he might confound the wise.
Through this simplicity of the truth, directly contrary to sub-
tiloquence and philosophy, we can savour nothing perverse."t

tTcrtull. Adv. Marcion, Lib. ii., 9 13, Oper. p. 181.

tTcrtulL Adv. Marcion, Lib. v., § 40, Oper. p. 328. Stillingfleet, in
his works on the Trinity, replies to this objection as follows : (p. 213-215.)

"But our Unitarians have an answer ready for these men, viz., that they
came out of Plato's school with the tincture of his three principles ; and
they sadly complain, that Platonism had very early corrupted the christian
faith as to these matters. In answer to which exception, I have only
one postulatum to make, which is, that these were honest men, and knew
their own minds best, and I shall make it appear, that none can more
positively declare, than they do, that they did not take up these notions
from Plato, but from the Holy Scriptures; Justin Martyr saith he took
the foundation of his faith from thence, and that he could find no certainty
as to God and religion anywhere else ; that he thinks Plato took his three
principles from Moses; and in his dialogue with Trypho, he at large,
proves the eternity of the Son of God from the Scriptures, and said he
would use no other arguments, for he pretended to no skill but in the
Scriptures, which God had enabled him to understand.

Athenagoras declares, that where the philosophers agreed with them,
their faith did not depend on them, but on the testimony of the Prophets,
who were inspired by the Holy Ghost. To the same purpose speaks
Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, who asserts the co-eternity of the Son with
the Father, from the beginning of St. John's Gospel, and saith their faith
is built on the Scriptures.

Clemens, of Alexandria, owns, not only the essential attributes of God
to belong to the Son, but that there is one Father of all, and one Word
over all, and one Holy Ghost, who is everirwhere, and he thinks Plato
borrowed his three principles from Moses ; that his second was the Son,
and his third the Holv Spirit. Even Origen himself, hip^hly commends
Moses above Plato, in his most undoubted writings, and saith, that Nume-
nius went beyond Plato, and that he borrowed out of the Scriptures; and
so he saith, Plato did in other places; but he adds, that doctrines were
better delivered in Scripture, than in his artificial dialogues. Can any
one that hath the least reverence for writers of such authority and zeal



Digitized by



Googk



180 ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY.

It is thus apparent that the very witnesses produced by the
Unitarians to prove the Pagan origin of the doctrine of the
Trinity, reject such imputation with scorn for its foolishness,
and actually give their testimony in favour of its origin in a
primitive Divine revelation. But this is not all. These wit-
nesses go further and charge home upon those who had endeav-
oured to suborn and pervert their testimony, the introduction
of their errors from that very Pagan philosophy to which they
would daringly and blasphemously ascribe the origin of the
christian Trinity.

To this purpose speaks the venerable Irenaeus, who yet, by
Dr. Priestly, has been accused in conjuction with Justin and
sundry others, his contemporaries, of introducing the doctrine
of the Logos from the schools of the philisophers into the sys-
tem of Christianity. "Heretics (says Irenaeus,) are not only
convicted of stealing from the comic writers, but they likewise
collect together the sayings of all those who are ignorant of
God, and who are called philosophers. Out of these numerous,
vile, borrowed rags, they industriously patch up a sort of cento ;
and thus through the introduction of a new doctrine, they pre-
pare themselves with subtle eloquence, a system superficially
plausible."*

Exactly similar also, are the repeated declarations of Ter-
tuUian. "Turning from the christians to the philosophers,
from the Church to the Academy and the Portico, Hermogenes
has thence borrowed from the Stoics the phantasy of conjoin-
ing matter with the Deity. For, matter, he contends, always
existed ; being neither bom, nor made, nor having either begin-
ning or end: and out of this God afterwards created all

things."t

"In good truth, (adds TertuUian,) I grieve to say that Plato
has become the universal seasoner of heretics. Since then,
those matters, which heretics borrow, are insinuated by Plato,
I shall sufficiently confute heretics, if I demolish the argument

for the christian doctrine, imagine that they wilftilly corrupted it in one
of the chief articles of it, and brought in new speculations against the
sense of those books, which at the same time, they professed to be the
only rule of their faith? Even where they speak most favourably of the
Platonic trinity, they suppose it to be borrowed from Moses. And there-
fore Numenius said, that Moses and Plato did not differ about the first
principles ; and Theodoret mentions Numenius as one of those who said,
Plato understood the Hebrew doctrine in Egypt; and during his thirteen
years' stay there, it is hardly possible to suppose, he should be i^orant of
the Hebrew doctrine, about the first principles, which he was so inquisitive
after, especially among nations who pretended to antiquity."

♦Iren. Adv. H«r. Lib. ii., c 19, sec 2. p. 117.

tTertull. Adv. Hermog; sec. 1, Open p. 336.



Digitized by



Googk



ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 181

of Plato.J Philosophers are the patriarchs of heretics."] |
"Finally, (adds he,) heresies themselves are suborned from
philosophy."§

Cyril of Alexandria, makes similar remarks. "Porphyry,
expounding the sentiment of Plato, sayeth, that the essence of
God proceeds even to three hypostases, but that the Supreme
God is "the Supreme Good," and that after him, the second is,
the prime Opificer or Creator ; moreover, that the third is, the
mundane soul, (or universal spirit.) For, the Divinity
extended itself to the soul of the universe. This Platonic
trinity Cyril refutes, as that which is the spawn and seed to
Arianism." ,^

Athanasius also charged upon the Arians two things as
Gnostic and Valentinian, which undoubtedly, are so :** one was
their bringing in, will, (1) between the Father and his word;
another was their creature Creator. (2) Philastrius (3) far-
ther charges them with having borrowed another principle from
the infamous Apelles, (of the Marcionite tribe,) which was the
making a second God, a creature and a subject of the first, not
to mention that Bishop Bull had run up your doctrines to the
old Gnostics, (4) long ago; and was never yet confuted, noiC'"
ever will be."

That Arianism originated in Pagan philosophy, was the opin-
ion of Melancthon, who, says "Paulus Samosatenus — who
adopted the blasphemy of Ebion and Cerinthus — was led to his
errors in the following way: Plotinus the philosopher, who
was a scholar to Ammonius, reading in the school of Alex-
andria, had mingled with his philosophy allegories touching the
eternal Word, and in as much as there were many debates
about these things from the writings of the ancients, Paulus
Samosatenus drew thence his impostures, and maintained that
Jesus Christ was only man, and that by Xo«yo9, logos, the word,
(John i., 1,) we are not to understand any person subsistent,
but the declaration and word of promise. These reveries were
received with much praise by curious spirits, and particularly
by Zenobia, Queen of Arabia and dame of Antioch, by whose
means P. Samosatenus was defended for ten years. This
heresy of Samosatenus, in denying the divinity of Christ, was



tOper. p. 669.

I [Ibid. p. 339.

tTertuU. Adv. Haer. sec 2, Oper. p. 97.

♦♦Sec Dr. Waterland's Second Defence, vol. iii., p. 289. (1) Athan, p.



608. (2) Athan Orat. ii., p. 489. (3) Philastrius Hares, cap. 47.
(4) Bull, D. F., Sect. iii.. Cap. 1.



Digitized by



Googk



182 ARTICXES ON THE TRINITY.

received by Anus, and that from the very same foundation of
Platonic philosophy, yea, in*the very same school of Alex-
andria."

The same fact is stated by Aquians.J "We find, (says he,)
in the books of the Platonist, that in the beginning the Word
was, by which Word, they understood not si person in the
Trinity, but an Ideal Reason, by which Go4 made all things —
whence sprang the error of Origen and Ariils, who followed the
Platonists herein. So again, in what follows. Q. 34, A. 1.
Aquinas assures us that Origen laid the foundation of Arian-
ism, by affirming that the word in Divine matters, was to be
interpreted only metaphysically, not properly. That Arius
also, derived his opinion from the Platonists through this
school of Alexandria, is evident, since Arius was a Presbyter
in this Church, and student in this school, where the Pythago-
rean and Platonic philosophy was at this time wholly in request,
Aristotle not having come into play till afterward."

Similar is the opinion of that great French reformer,
Morelius.* "It has been the custom (says he,) to use disputes
in many places, whence many inconveniences may follow : for
such disputes tend only to awaken and discover the spirit,
whence follows much presumption and ostentation, and the
starting of high and curious questions, which may afterwards
trouble the church." The Arian heresy had its rise from the
particular conferences of learned men in the city of Alexandria.
Indeed, Constantine sharply reprehended these curious dis-
putes, &c. The same may be applied to the Photinian heresy,
which was the same with the Arian and Samosatenian.

Origen, therefore, introduced the Aristotelian philosophy in
order to counteract the paganizing effects of the Platonic, and
for the same purpose endeavoured to harmonize the Platonic
and christian Trinities, and thus paved the way for greater
errors.f

tSum. Part, i., Q. 32, A. 1.

♦Discipl. Liv. ii., chap. 4, pp. 87, 88. y^'

tThe error of identifying the Platonic and christian trinities, says Mr.
Cory, (1) took its rise with a few of the writers in the second century.
"They were led into the mistake by the word Logos, used by Plato and
St. John, and made the Platonic Trinity to consist of God, the Logos
and the Soul of the world, and this in spite of all the professed followers
of Plato, who, however they might vary among themselves, uniformly
insisted upon placing the Monad and Duad, or at least, a Monad above
their Triad.

In the first century of the christian era, Philo, an Alexandrian Jew,
had attempted to expound the Scriptures on Platonic principles; and after

(1) Ancient Fragments, p. 7, Introd.



Digitized by



Googk



ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 183

We have thus, I think, demonstrated that so far from being
true that the doctrine of the Trinity was derived by some of
the early Fathers from the Pagan doctrine of Plato and other
philosophers, these Fathers brand, repudiate and deny the
charge, condemn those doctrines as erroneous and foolish, and
attribute to them the heresies which are now advocated by
Unitarians. But these Fathers go still further than this.
These very Fathers attribute whatever is true or good, in these
ancient philosophers, not to human reason, not to their genius,
or original invention, but to the revelation of God. "Your
philosophers," says Justin Martyr to the Greeks, "through the
agency of the Divine Providence, have unwillingly been even
themselves, compelled to speak on our side of the question:
and now, especially those who sojourned in Egypt, and who
are benefited by the theosophy of Moses and his ancestors.
For those of you, who are acquainted with the history of Dio-

the promulgation of the Gospel, many of the fathers warmly adopted the
same mode of exposition. The different sects of the Gnostics went far
beyond the Grecian sage, and sought in the East the doctrines, to which
they looked upon the writings of Plato merely as essays, introductory to
the sublimer flights of the Oriental mysticism, and they treated his fol-
lowers with that contempt, against which the vanity of a philosopher is
seldom proof; and as long as these schools existed, a bitter enmity pre-
vailed between them. The Gnostics gave at once a real existence to the
Ideal world, and continuing the chain of being from the Supreme through
numerous orders of Eons, personified abstract ideas, of which the second
and third persons of the Trinity were the first and second Eons, and from
thence to the lowest material species, founded that daring heresy which
so long disturbed the tranquility of Christendom, and with this spurious
Platonism of the fathers of the Arian heresy, is likewise intimately con-
nected.

But the internal heresies of the Church were not the only ill effects
of which the misguided zeal of the fathers, in forcing upon Plato the
doctrine of the Trinitv, brought about. Though it is possible, that by
pointing out some crude similarity of doctrine, they might have obtained
some converts by rendering Christianity less unpalatable to the philo-
sophical world of that day, yet the weapon was skillfully turned against
them, and with unerring effect, when the Pagans took upon them to assert
that nothing new had been revealed in Christianity ; since, b^ the con-
fessions of its very advocates, the system was previously contained in the
writings of Plato.

In the third century Ammonius Saccas, universally acknowledged to
have been a man of consummate ability, taught that every sect, Christian
or Heretic, or Pagan, had received the truth, and retained it in their
varied legends. He undertook therefore, to unfold it from them all, and
to reconcile every creed. And from his exertions sprung the celebrated
Eclectic School of the later Platonists, Plotinus. Amelius, Olympius,
Porphjrrius, Jamblicus, Syranus and Proclus, were among the celebrated
Professors who succeeded Ammonius in the Platonic Chairs, and revived
and kept alive the spirit of Paganism, with a bitter enmity to the Gospel,
for near three hundred years. The Platonic Schools were at length closed
by the edict of Justinian ; and seven wise men, the last lights of Platonism,
Diogenes, Hermias, Eulalius, Priscianus, Damascius, Isidorus and Sim-
plicius, retired indignantly from the persecutions of Justinian, to realize
ihe shadowy dreams of the Republic of Plato, under the Persian, despotism
of Chosroes.



Digitized by



Googk



184 ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY.

dorus, and with the productions of other similar writers, can
scarcely, I think, be ignorant; that Orpheus and Homer, and
Solon, and Pythagoras, and Plato, and several others, having
sojourned in Egypt, and having been benefited by the history
of Moses, afterward set forth matters directly contrary to their
former indecorous speculations concerning the gods. Thus,
for instance, Orpheus, though the first teacher of Polytheism
among you, declared to his son, Museus, and to other sincere
hearers, the unity of the Godhead. We find him also adjuring
THE VOICE OF THE FATHER : by which expression, he means the
WORD OF God, through whom were produced the heavens and
the earth, and the whole creation, as the divine prophecies of
holy men teach us. For, becoming partially acquainted with
those prophecies in Egypt, he thence learned that the whole
creation was produced by the word of God. Pythagoras, like-
wise, who, through symbols, mystically declared the dogmata
of his philosophy, learned just sentiments, concerning the unity
of God, during his abode in Egypt. After a similar manner,
Plato, as it seems, learned in Egypt the doctrine of Moses and
the prophets respecting one only God. For, wishing to inter-
pret to the ignorant what was mystically said concerning the
eternity of God, he wrote as follows : "God, as the ancient dis-
course sets forth, has the beginning, and the end, and the mid-
dle of all things." Here, under the name of the ancient
discourse, Plato clearly and openly alludes to the law of Moses :
though through fear of Aconite he did not venture to mention
the precise name of the Hebrew Legislator."*

Here also, to the same effect, Clement of Alexandria.
"Plato," says he, "remarks, God, as also the ancient discourse
teaches, comprehends the beginning and the end, and the mid-
dle of all things. Whence, O Plato, did you thus darkly set
forth the truth ? The nations of the barbarians, says he, are
wiser than those. Truly I will know your teachers, though
you may wish to conceal them. From the Hebrews you have
borrowed both all your good laws, and your opinions respecting
the Deity."t "Pythagoras transferred largely from our Scrip-
tures into his own system of dogmatic philosophy. For,
Numenius, the Pythagorean philosopher, undisg^isedly writes :
what is Plato save Moses atticisingPJ Again, he says, "The
philosophies of the Greeks without acknowledging their obli-



♦ Justin Cohort, ad Grac. Opcr. pp. 11, 12, 14, 18.
tClem. Alex. Admon. ad Gent. Oper. pp. 45, 46.
tClem. Alex. Strom. Lib. 1, Oper, p. 342.



Digitized by



Googk



ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 185

gations, borrowed the best of their dogmata from Moses and
the prophets."*

According to Justin Martyr, the three principles of the
Greek philosopher were God, and Matter, and Form : to which
he sometimes added a fourth, under the title of the soul of the
universe.f

But, Prophyry exhibits Plato's second and third principles,
as being active instead of passive: whence he sums up the
entire three as the Highest Good, God, the Second Creative
God, and the Soul of the World. And this last statement of
the speculation seems to be favoured by the language of Plato
himself : for, mentioning them altogether in his second epistle
to Dionysius, he denominates his three divine principles. Essen-
tial Goodness, and Creative Intellect, and The Universal Mun-
dane Soul. "Now, in the Triad of Plato, (says Faber,) some
of the early Fathers wished to discover a real, though corrupted
declaration of the three persons of the Trinity : and the theory
upon which they proceeded was avowedly the following: The
doctrine of the Trinity, they maintained, so far from being an
invention of Plato, was, in truth, a primitive patriarchal reve-
lation of the divine nature. This primitive revelation was,
with a more ample development, confirmed under the Gospel.
Plato, meanwhile, had corruptly borrowed its outline from the
writings of Moses and the Prophets. Consequently, men need
not wonder to have found a prominent dogma, both of the
ancient and Hebrew Church, and of its successor the christian
Church, in the works of a speculative Greek, who had been
largely conversant with the Orientals.^

Thus, it is made apparent that the Fathers, instead of lend-
ing any countenance to the Unitarian hjrpothesis, that they
derived the doctrine of the Trinity from Plato and other Pagan
philosophers, condemned their doctrine of triads as a corrupt
perversion of the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures, and of an
original primitive revelation, from which they borrowed their
ideas.

But, passing from the ancient world to the various portions
of the christian Church, the fact that this doctrine of the Trin-
ity has been the almost universal belief of that church in every

♦Justin Cohort, ad. Grace. Oper. p. 6.

tjustin Cohort, ad. Grace. Opcr. p. 6.

tjustin Apol. 1, Oper. pp. 72, 73. Sec Faber's Apost of Trinitarianism,
vol. ii., B. 2, eh. 3, from which we have taken our authorities and the
argument See also, do. ch. 6, p. 145-150. Gale's Court of Gentiles, vol.
iv., p. 386.



Digitized by



Googk



186 ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY.

country, and in every age, — ^the fact that the denial or modi-
fication of it led to the formation of the earliest creeds and the
controversies of christians with those calling themselves Fel-
low-christians, — the fact that, with the exception of one period,
when for reasons which can be stated, a modification of this
doctrine called Trinitarianism prevailed,* all who denied it
were excommunicated as heretics, as abandoning the essential
doctrine of the Gospel,— the fact that during that age referred
to, christian men contended earnestly for this doctrine as "the
faith once delivered to the saints," "even unto blood,"t — the
fact that from that time this doctrine has been received as a
fundamental doctrine by the Western, Greek, Oriental, Syrian
and Waldensian Churches; — the fact that at the reformation
this doctrine was adopted by every church, and introduced into
every confession of faith, without exception,^ — ^the fact that
all denial and discussion of the doctrine has only convinced the
almost unanimous mind of Christendom that this is the doc-
trine of the Bible, and that it is vital and fundamental ; — these
facts surely carry with them a very powerful presumption in
favor of our opinion that this doctrine is clearly taught in the
word of God.§

But the character of these witnesses is as striking as their
number. In the first place, we have the testimony of the
ancient Jews. This is fully established by the writings of Philo,
who was contemporary with the Apostles, and by the EKalogue
of Justin Martyr with the Jew Trypho, in the middle of the
second century, as well as by the Jerusalem Targum, or Para-
phrase, written about the fourth century, by the Targum or
Paraphrase of the Pentateuch, as ascribed to Jonathan ben
Uzziel, written in the sixth or seventh century, and also by
other Jewish works of acknowledged antiquity. That the
ancient Jews were led to the belief of a plurality — a trinity — in
the divine nature, has been further illustrated from the Books
in the Apochrypha, as well as from the works above mentioned.
"To the man who is really conversant in the writings of the
Targumists, Cabbalists and Daruschists, remarks Mr. Oxlee,
who is himself to be guided by their direction and authority,
the doctrine of the Trinity can offer no scruples. The Tar-
gumist certainly distinguishes between Jehovah — the word of

'^See Newman's History of Arianism in the 4th Century.
tSee Note C, for the testimony of the early Fathers.
iSee Note D., for the testimony of the Reformers.
{Note on the views of the Fathers.



Digitized by



Googk



ARTICLES ON THE TRINITY. 187

Jehovah — and the Habitation of Jehovah, by ascribing to each
of them personal actions and properties, whilst he makes them
all equally God, by assigning to them those effects of wisdom
and power which are peculiar to the first cause ; and yet he is
not accused of having established three Gods, nor of having
denied the unity. The Cabbalist distinguishes between the
higher Numerations, Supreme Crown, Wisdom and Under-
standing; which he asserts to be no properties, as the name
might import, but eternal subsistance of the Godhead ; and yet
he is not charged with having violated the unity of Jehovah,
nor with having induced three Gods. Finally, the Daruschit
vindicates the eternity and divinity of the Law and of the
Throne of Grace, by demonstrating that they actually existed
with Jehovah prior to the creation, and that on the authority of
the inspired penman, they all denote one and the same thing,
that is, one and the same God ; and yet he is not condemned for
having dissolved the unity by the number of his pre-existences.
How then can the Professors of Judaism with any colour of
propriety object to that tenet, which agrees in every essential
point with the principles of their own church.*

We do not allude to these writings of the Jews because we
think they have any claim of authority over our judgment, or
that they are entitled to any high regard for the soundness of
their understanding, or the correctness of their principles of
interpretation: but their testimony is valuable, as historical
documents giving us relics of the better knowledge and the
purer faith of their ancestors. Neither do we undertake to
affirm that these ancient writings of the Jews as clearly teach
the triune personal distinction in the Godhead as so many and
so learned men have been led to believe they do. Their opinion
is our own. But still, we do not offer the testimony of these
writings as in itself, a positive proof of the divine authority
and truth of the doctrine of the Trinity, but as a presumptive
proof that it is so, because the ancestors of those who now
oppose the doctrine so interpreted Scripture, and so contem-
plated the Divine Being as to conceive of a plurality in the one

*0n this point, the reader can examine the judgment of the Ancient
Jewish Church against the Unitarians, bv Alex. Simpson, Plea, pp. 407-431.



Online LibraryThomas SmythComplete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D → online text (page 20 of 68)