Containing some new reflexions upon the Profession of faith, which was presented to Huneric by the African Bishops.
IN speaking of Vigilius Bishop of Tapsum, and the frequent quotations he has made of the passage of St. John, I have had occasion to place with him the three or four hundred Bishops, who had inserted this triumphant Text into their Profession of faith; I have quoted in my Dissertation, and in the Examination of Mr. Emlyn’s Answer, the place which concerns this passage; he has been able to make no reply, so that I look upon this matter as concluded: but I am here about to consider it again in another light.
It remains indisputably prov’d that all the African Bishops, as well in their own name, as in that of their Churches have own’d as a Text of St. John that of the witnesses in heaven, which they have urg’d in the most authentick instrument that perhaps was ever drawn up, and in the nicest circumstances that the Churches of several great Provinces, and of divers other Countries beyond Sea, such as the Churches of Majorca, Minorca, Sardinia, and Corsica, which were in the same interests with those of Africk were ever found in. It is certain then, that this Confession of faith was actually put into the hands of the Arians, who had their Bibles, as the Orthodox had theirs, and were acquainted with the Greek tongue, as well as they, and were, no less than the Orthodox, exercis’d in reading the sacred Scripture, and in dispute. Lastly, ’tis most sure, that they gave no other answer to this Tract of of the Bishop than by stirring up against them the rage of the Emperor Huneric; all these facts are taken from History. This sole recital, tho’ very much abridg’d, and destitute of the reflexions I have added to it in my Dissertation, convinces by its own evidence, that at that time neither Orthodox, nor Arians, had any doubt but that the passage really belong’d to St. John’s Epistle. The Arians would not have desir’d any thing better than to find in an Act prepar’d with so much care, and upon which four Bishops employ’d to draw it up had spent several Months, a forg’d passage, and especially a passage, upon which the Orthodox relied so much in the defence of the doctrine of the Trinity. Those cunning and obstinate hereticks knew how to exclaim against the simple words ουσια and ὁμοούσιον, essence and co-essential,which in the Council of Nice had been appropriated to the Consubstantial Divinity of the Son with the Father. Shew us, said they continually, the words essence and co-essential in some Text of Scripture; how then did they not here, where the subject is of more than one word, and where a whole Text is oppos’d to their error, answer that the Text is not in the Scripture, and that it could not be shewn to be there? They would have discern’d the mote, and not have seen the beam!
Vigilius of Tapsum enter’d the lists against ’em; St. Fulgentius also had with them divers disputes; the passage of St. John was urg’d by them both: We find in all these disputes the answers and the arguments of the Arians upon divers Texts of Scripture: nothing appears upon this, which looks like the rejecting it as forg’d.
When any passages are brought against them, upon which they can urge the difference of Copies, they never fail to make use of this plea: this may be seen in the case of Rom.viii. verse II. in the second Vol. of St. Athanasius’s works, p. 228 and Upon another passage in the fame Volume, pag. 610. but we meet with nothing like this upon the Text of St. John’s Epistle.
Their whole answer to all the passages urg’d against them out of the Epistle to the Hebrews in defence of our Saviour Jesus Christ’s Divinity, Which is there express’d in so many places, is that this Epistle is not Canonical: The Arians, says Mr. Simon, were the first in the Eastern Church, who obstinately rejected the Epistle to the Hebrews, seeing it was not favourable to their new opinions. Urge against them the Text of Sr. John’s Epistle! They alledge nothing against its being authentick, nor charge it with forgery.
How then, says Mr. Emlyn in his late Tract, pag. 45. do they say nothing, and suffer themselves to fall by a Text, which gives victory to their adversaries, without making the least defence? Those, says he, who have urg’d this passage, must have: either necessarily suppress’d the answers of the Arians, or they are lost, since they are not come down to us. As to their being lost, ’tis impossible, since as they must have been join’d to the objection, and the objection is by different ways come down to us in the Writings of the Fathers, the answers could not fail of coming in like manner. Nor did even Mr. Emlyn think so; he uses this dilemma in his reasoning only to manage a little the opposite question, and not too inconsiderately to assert that the ancient Fathers had suppressed the answers of their adversaries. If he meant to say this, he may find certain persons who out of prejudice and dislike to the Writings of the Fathers will not disallow of it; but natural equity join’d to good sense, which ought every where to preside, can never approve of a suspicion so injurious to the ecclesiastical Writers, who have recommended themselves so many different ways, and to which their manner of relating the disputes which they had with the hereticks, has given no place. So far from this, that we every where find the passages of Scripture, that seem most favourable to Arianism, set in their fullest light, and urg’d with all the force that was possible to the Arians. We see there the most subtle and artful reasonings that the Arians, and their fellow-brethren the Socinians, are able to form at present, sometimes against the Mystery of the Trinity; sometimes against the Divinity and eternal generation of the Son; and sometimes against the procession of the Holy Ghost, and the Divinity of his Person. Consult but what they have said upon the 22nd verse of the viiith Chapter of the Proverbs against the eternity of the Son: The Lord has created me, &c. relying upon the translation of the LXX. who have thus render’d it instead of, the Lord has possessed me, &c. as the Hebrew Text imports: Upon the 32nd verse of the xiiith Chapter of St. Mark, in order to deprive Jesus Christ of his infinite knowledge, But of that day knoweth no man, no not the Son,&c. Upon the 29th verse of the Xth Chapter of St. John, to take off from the supreme dignity of the Son, by these words which he had said himself; My Father is greater than I. The Fathers withal have not been forgetful to give us instances of their artfulness in eluding the Texts of Scripture urg’d against them; several are seen in what I have produc’d above; I shall add but one more, that I may not too much multiply things of this nature. The Orthodox made use of the Text, where Jesus Christ says, I and my Father are one, to prove his unity of nature with the Father, as being but one and the same God. The Arians evaded, or pretended to evade this proof by the distinction of unity of nature, and unity of will, explaining these words of Jesus Christ of the latter; and it was necessary for the Divines of those times to strengthen themselves with other Texts in defence of that. We must not imagine that these subtle Arians did not urge the same answer to the passage of St. John’s Epistle, since the three are one of this Text is the same thing with these words of Jesus Christ, I and the Father are one. This is manifestly the sum of the seventh Dialogue of Vigilius of Tapsum, printed among the Works of St. Athanasius, Vol. 2. of the Cologn Edition: where he says, that where the names of the persons are express’d, there they believe different natures to be express’d by those names; so that they assign to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost an unity of will only, and not an unity of divine nature: And it was also after this manner, that the Abbat Joachim, who reviv’d Arianism, explain’d the Text of St. John’s Epistle in the 12th Century; as we see in the Acts of the Council of Lateran, held in 1215.
But tho’ we were not so well satisfy’d as we are concerning the answer which the Arians may have given to this passage, what advantage could accrue to Mr. Emlyn, or what consequence could he draw thence? Our question turns only upon this, whether, these words of St. John’s Epistle, For there are three, who bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one, were in the old Italick Version, and were urg’d by the Fathers against the Arians; I prove it by abundance of authorities; and there is not one which they can dispute, either as falsely alledg’d, or as uncertain; but would it be less true, that the passages extracted from the writings of the Fathers, which I have produc’d, are in their Books, tho’ we should be wholly ignorant of what the Arians may have answer’d? I am not acquainted with Mr. Emlyn’s Logick, but no man was ever less regular in fixing his principles, and drawing his consequences: I have made this remark in another place.