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THE DIVINITY OF CHRIST.
REVEREND EDWARD BURTON, B. D.
LATE STUDENT OF CHRIST CHURCH.
SECOND EDITION WITH CONSIDERABLE ADDITIONS.
Ιδού, ημείς μεν εκ πατέρων είς πατέρας διαβεβηκέναι την τοιαύτην διάνοιαν
åmodeoxrúgjev. Athanas. de Decret. Syn. Nic. §. 27. Vol. I. p. 233.
AT THE CLARENDON PRESS.
THE object of the present work is to lay before the reader a series of passages extracted from the writings of those Fathers, who lived before the Council of Nice, and which appear to support the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ. It might seem hardly necessary to prove at much length, that the belief of those early Christians was most likely to be genuine and apostolical. That all corruptions are of gradual and successive growth, may be said to be a self-evident proposition: and that any doctrine is most likely to have been pure and genuine at a period which was not far removed from its first promulgation, is surely as plain and undeniable, as that we are likely to find a stream more clear and uncorrupt, the nearer we approach its source.
Let us compare Clement and Ignatius, who were contemporaries of the apostles, with ourselves. We can only learn the sentiments of the apostles from their writings. These have come down to us with the errors and corruptions which the lapse of eighteen centuries must unavoidably have introduced : we read them with a previous knowledge of different and opposite senses being deduced from the same passage : and the notions in which we have been brought up, if not a spirit of party and of prejudice, are likely to warp our judgments and influence our interpretations. But Clement and Ignatius, if they found things hard to be understood in the writings of the apostles, could refer for a solution of the difficulty either to the writers themselves, or to other apostles who had known them familiarly, and who had laboured together with them. There are some points of doctrine, of which it seems impossible to conceive, that Clement and Ignatius could be ignorant. To suppose that they did not know whether Peter or Paul or John believed Jesus Christ to be essentially God, or a mere mortal man, seems as improbable, nay, I would say, as impossible, as to suppose that they did not know, whether these apostles believed Jesus Christ to have been actually nailed to the cross.
If Clement and Ignatius did know what was the belief of the apostles concerning the divinity or humanity of Jesus, it necessarily follows that they held the same belief themselves; and though the writings which they have left are extremely few, it is highly probable that some traces of their belief upon this subject would appear in their own works: at all events it becomes very important that their writings should be examined, that we may see whether such traces exist or no.
If we carry the same train of reasoning into the second century, we shall find a similar improbability, that Justin or Irenæus, who had seen and heard the contemporaries of the apostles, should not know for certain what was the apostolical doctrine concerning the nature of Christ. It may be said, that the farther we advance from the original source, the greater chance there is of our meeting with accidental errors and intentional corruptions. But this remark, though often made, requires some restriction and qualification. That a greater number of persons should be followers of an error which had already existed, and that heresies themselves should increase, was likely to happen as the knowledge of Christianity extended: but the very increase of Christianity made it more and more difficult that all Christians should unite in corrupting their common faith. As soon as the Epistles and Gospels were translated into any one language, an obstacle was presented to any general and uniform departure from the doctrine of the apostles; and every new nation converted to the Christian faith would afford an additional security to the integrity and unity of that faith. If we suppose that the great body of believers at any particular period, at the time of the Council of Nice for instance, held opinions concerning the divine and human natures of Christ, which were totally different from those of the apostles, we must suppose that the Christians of different countries had either kept pace with each other, and by mutual agreement made the same successive alterations in their creeds, or that at one particular time they all agreed by one sudden and simultaneous act to alter the primitive belief. The