Other proofs that the Text of the witnesses in heaven was in the old Italick Version.
TO the age of St. Cyprian immediately succeeded that, in which St. Jerom flourish’d. The first Latin Version had already been made three hundred years, and in less time many faults must have crept into the Copies, which were continually dispers’d for the use of the Churches and private Persons. ‘Twas then a trade to transcribe Books, as it Is now to print ’em. Both learned and ignorant were equally employ’d in writing and copying: ’twas a means of getting their livelihood; and as they were more or less dexterous at it, they made their profit. Every one, who could write and read, became his own scribe for himself and family; no person had the inspection of his work, or was appointed to make in it the necessary corrections. Books must thus often fall into bad hands, and be insensibly fill’d with faults. Sometimes an ignorant transcriber took one word for another, and put that which he understood in the place of that which he did not. Sometimes, wearied with a labour, which requires a continual attention, he suffer’d words to escape his eyes and his pen, and even lines, especially when the one began with the same words which the other had ended with; instances of these omissions are very common in the ancient MSS. Sometimes a copier, more bold than learned, made alterations in the passage, where he thought the copy, which he transcrib’d, was faulty. These were so many fatal springs from whence numbers of faults arose. St. Jerom has specify’d all these sources of irregularity and defects in his Epistle to Pope Damasus, who earnestly exhorted him to make an exact revise of the MSS. of the Gospels. Tho’ this work appear’d to him very toilsome and difficult, because, said he, of the great diversity he saw in the Manuscripts, and the almost innumerable faults, which had crept into ’em, tho’ for the most part very slight, and which did not affect the essentials of Religion, he yet resolv’d to undertake it. He perform’d it with all imaginable care, comparing several MSS. together, and forming his corrections upon the Greek. He did the same some time after to the other Books of the New Testament, which makes him say in the Catalogue of his works, plac’d at the end of his Treatise of Ecclesiastical Writers, that he had revis’d the New Testament by the Greek Copies, as he had before done that of the Old by the Hebrew.
The Text of the three witnesses in heaven was in the Italick Version, as we have seen from the use Tertullian and St. Cyprian had made of it. This Version sell under the eyes of St. Jerom; there then he saw this sacred Text; and he saw it there, either as a fault to be corrected, or as a genuine Text. If the latter, St. Jerom own’d it to be the Apostle St. John’s; if the other, he must have cast it out of the Epistle in his revise; but very far from having rejected it, he left it there with the Text of the three witnesses, which are upon earth, and the whole Church has read it there since as it had read it there before: I have given indisputable proofs of this in my Dissertation, and shall give more in this. I speak not here of the Prologue to the seven Canonical Epistles, in which St. Jerom complains of some particular Version, from which this Text was taken away, thro’ the unfaithfulness, as he believ’d, of the Authors of that Version; ’tis a point of Criticism, upon which I have already wrote, and to which I shall be oblig’d to return, in order to remove the difficulty Mr. Emlyn has form’d, and with which he imagines I must be very much perplex’d.
Those who have read with any care the writings of St. Jerom cannot be ignorant, that when he has happen’d to deviate in some places from the Italick Version, he has mark’d them out, and given his reasons. If it was necessary to quote instances; I could give several, which withal concern only one word, or some such other inconsiderable alteration; but this would lead me too far, and carry me off too much from my subject: the matter of fact is known, and disputed by no body. If then St. Jerom had inserted this passage of St. John in his Version without having found it in the Italick; or having found it there did not insert it in his revise, for one of these two must necessarily be fact, is it to be conceiv’d, that so exact and careful as he was to justify himself upon the smallest points, against his envious adversaries, who fought for an occasion to quarrel with his conduct in relation to his Version, as he has complain’d in several of his Epistles, yet he should have negligently forbore to set down in some of his works the reasons which he had, not to follow the ancient Version with regard to this Text, which is one of the most important in all the New Testament? His perfect silence then is a certain mark, that he had nothing to say upon it, no more than upon all the other passages, where he had left things as he found them.
This reasoning is one of those which the Philosophers name a dilemma, the force of which consists in an alternative, in which two cases being propos’d, you must chuse to admit of the one, and reject the other. Here then let them take which side they will; I matter not; my argument will always be convincing.
But what need is there to urge this reasoning from the genius and character of St. Jerom, when we have express proofs of the fact in question, namely, that in his time the ancient Latin Version contain’d the passage of St. John’s Epistle? St. Eucherius liv’d at the same time with St. Jerom, tho’ somewhat younger than he; the Church had then no other Version in use but the Italick; St. Jerom’s revise, made at Bethleem, could not yet have pass’d the mountains to be known in France, where St. Eucherius flourish’d in the famous Monastery of Lerins, and afterwards at Lyons, where he was Bishop. He has quoted in his Tract de formulis spiritualibus the two passages of St. John’s Epistle, which speak of the three witnesses in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and of the three witnesses in Earth, the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood. One cannot believe how much pains Mr. Emlyn has taken to invalidate this quotation; but the more he has turn’d about to different sides, the more he has shewn the perplexity he was in, and the difficulty of getting rid of it; he himself is become so sensible of it by the answers, which I have made to all his objections, that he has prudently thought fit to be silent in the affair. One thing, which seems to have given him the most satisfaction, was an imagination, that the passage where St. Eucherius speaks of the three witnesses of heaven, was falsify’d by some transcribers, because, he said, he did not comprehend how that ancient Bishop could have quoted in the same passage the Text of the three witnesses in Earth, the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood, which were mystically explain’d of the three divine persons, since that of the witnesses in heaven would have prov’d of it self, and without recourse to mystical meanings, the Trinity of the persons in the divinity. I have shewn him, that this was an illusion, which he had form’d from imagining that S. Eucherius quoted these two passages to prove the doctrine of the Trinity; and I next produc’d to him two instances taken from the Decretal Epistles of Isidorus Mercator, in which these two Texts of St. John’s Epistle are quoted together, and even with regard to this doctrine. We have withal a third instance taken from an Author more ancient than the Author of the Decretals; ’tis Vigilius Bishop of Tapsum, who has wrote so much against the Arians, and who has urg’d against them the passage of the witnesses in heaven no less than five times in divers places of his Discourse concerning the Trinity. Being at Naples, whither he had retir’d from Africk, that he might continue no longer expos’d to the persecution of the Emperor Hunerick, he compos’d under the name of Idacius Clarus, a famous Bishop in Spain in the preceding age, a Treatise against Varimadus, an Arian Deacon, in which he inserts the principal objections of the Arians against the Divinity of Jesus Christ, with the answers that were to be made to ’em: If they urge against you, says he, these words of the Son of God, “The Father is greater than I: Answer, ‘she Father is greater than the Son considers as man, having taken human nature upon him; but the Son is equal to the Father, in his divine nature; according to what he has said, I and the Father are one: agreeable to which is that which St. John has said in his Epistle to the Parthians, (for ’tis thus that several of the ancients have styl’d this first Epistle of St.John) There are three that bear record in earth, &c. and three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, &c.
From this quotation I draw two advantages; the first, which is the least, is that it finally disconcerts Mr. Emlyn’s scheme against the passage of St. Eucherius; the second, which is far more considerable, and is very much to my purpose, is that the Text of the witnesses in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, was in the Italick Version; for Vigilius, and the other writers of his age, made use of no other. This pious Bishop liv’d in the same age with St. Jerom; for tho’ he had already gain’d a great reputation towards the close of the the fourth Century, he pass’d a good part of his life in the fifth; for which reason he is commonly rank’d with the Writers of the fifth Century, with St. Paulmus, Rufinus, St. Augustine, and others. This remark would not be very important, and which I should never have thought of making, if it did not serve to remove an illusion, which Mr. Emlyn has form’d, and which he would be glad to realize to impose it upon others; which is, that fays he, Vigilius, Eugenius, and the other Prelates, who have mention’d this Text, came too late, for they liv’d in the fifth Century: I have shewn the extravagance of this answer, and have met with no reply: but to draw an advantage from the remark I have made upon the age, in which St. Jerom is rank’d, namely, the same with that of Vigilius, Bishop of Tapsum, and the other African Prelates, whom I have quoted; if the argument taken from their being of the fifth Century renders their deposition useless, what can that of St. Jerom, or that of St. Augustine, have more, unless it derives its authority from the dignity and merit of their persons; which would be the most: absurd thing to urge in the world. Vigilius of Tapsum was no less religious than St. Augustine, and he had this advantage above him, that he suffer’d great persecutions in Africk, which had not been rais’d there in the time of St. Augustine. St. Eugenius also, Primate of the African Churches, and a Confessor for the Faith, was a person of no less dignity than the Bishop of Hippo; and the three or four hundred Bishops who in their profession of faith, presented to Huneric, defended the doctrine of the Trinity by the Text of St. John, There are three which bear record in heaven, &c. in the same age with St. Augustine and St. Jerom, amounts in my opinion to as much as a quotation which should be found among the works of those two excellent servants of God. It seems as if they had a mind to pass in the world for men who shut their eyes against the clearest truths; or who prostitute their sincerity, when they make use of such pitiful evasions.
In short, tho’ the times had been far more distant from each other than those of St. Jerom and St. Augustine were from that of these African Bishops, the sole life of a man, might yet have seen them both: There were but, sixty four years from St. Jerom to the time these Bishops wrote; and scarce more than fifty two or fifty three from the death of St.Augustine; now does this make it worth the while to say with scorn, they are writers of the fifth Century? If I had been in that age, and it had pleas’d God I had liv’d so long, as I have done in this, I should not only have been able to see St. Jerom, Vigilius, and the rest, but also to have exercis’d the sacred Ministry for near three years of St. Augustine’s life, and withal in the days of the three hundred African Bishops, who drew up that excellent Cofsession of faith, in which the passage of St. John confronts the Arian heresy, since I have had the honour to be a Minister 57 years, and am now in the eighty first year of my Age. Opinions may change in passing from one age to another; and in these cases ’tis true one cannot infer from the prevalence of such or such an opinion in the world in one age, that they had been so an age or two before; of this we have an hundred instances: but that the quotation of a passage from a Book known, and esteem’d, and which is withal in the hands of all the world, loses of its weight, because of its being made in one age more ancient than another, is what no body has ever thought? and yet ’tis this which Mr. Emlyn has several times ventur’d to assert.