« PreviousContinue »
of the relatives of Jesus Christ, of whom several survived in his day, should excite a rebellion, lay claim to the imperial throne, and overturn his government. To guard against so direful a catastrophe, Domitian caused an inquiry to be instituted respecting the kindred of Jesus Christ then living, their number, rank, and station in society; and it was ascertained that there yet remained the grandsons of Jude (author of the epistle), who were called his brothers, according to the flesh. - They were accordingly brought before the emperor by Evocatus, one of his officers. Being interrogated concerning their property or possessions, they gave proof that they were poor labouring men, and, consequently, that the Roman emperor had nothing to fear from them. They were then asked concerning Christ and his kingdom, of what kind it was, and when and where it should appear? They answered that it was not a worldly kingdom ; not mundane, but heavenly and angelical, and would appear (viz. in its true grandeur) in the end of the world, according to 2 Tim. iv. 1, when he, coming in glory, should judge the quick and the dead, and render to every man according to his works.*
Another of the Fathers of the primitive church, of whom I proposed to take some little notice, is Theophilus, bishop or elder of the church at Antioch, who wrote in the reign of the emperor Marcus Antoninus, A. D. 180. He was originally a heathen, as he himself informs us; and his works show him to have been a man of extensive erudition, well versed in Greek learning, and a zealous defender of the faith against the heretics Hermogenes and Marcion, as well as the calumnious misrepresentations of the heathen of his day. He succeeded Eros, in the pastoral office of that church, in the eighth year of Marcus Antoninus, or A. D. 168. His writings have perished, except three books, which he addressed to Autolychus on the Christian religion. The latter was a learned and studious heathen, who, it seems, had goaded Theophilus by frequent conversations, if not by writings, to defend himself and his religion. Jerome, in his book of illustrious men, says, “ Theophilus, the sixth bishop of the church of Antioch, in the reign of Marcus Antoninus, composed a book against Marcion (the heretic), which is still extant. His three volumes to Autolychus are also in being, and one book against the heresy of Hermogenes, with other short and elegant treatises, conducive to the edification of the church. The first book is properly a discourse between him and Autolychus, in answer to what the latter had said against Christianity. The second labours to convince him of the falsehood of his own and the truth of the Christian religion. In the third, after having proved that the Heathen mythology was full of absurdities and contradictions, he vindicates the doctrine and lives of the Christians from those false and scandalous imputations which were then brought against them. Lastly, at the end of his work, he adds an historical chronology from the beginning of the world to his own time, to prove that the history of Moses is at once the most ancient and the truest; and in this little compendium Theophilus has given proof of his intimate acquaintance with profane history, while the quotations which Lardner has produced equally show his acquaintance with the holy Scriptures. It is remarkable that the first mention which is on record of the use of the word Trinity, to express the revealed distinction in the Godhead, is found in the writings of the patriarch of Antioch. His style is elegant, and the specimen which remains of his compositions is sufficient to show that he was a very eloquent man.
* Euseb. Hist. Eccles. p. 90, A. R.
Speaking of the prophets, Theophilus says, “ First, they taught us, with one consent, that God made all things out of nothing: for nothing was contemporaneous with God. But he being in his own place, and needing nothing, and existing before the ages, willed to make man, by whom he might be known. For him, therefore, he prepared the world :—for he that is created stands in need of another), but he that is increate wants nothing. God, therefore, having his own Word internal, within his own bowels, begat him, emitting him in conjuuction with his wisdom, before all things. He had this Word as his minister in the work of creation, and by Him he made all things. He is called the beginning, because he is the commencement and ruler over all things created by him. He, therefore, being the Spirit of God, and the beginning and the Wisdom, and the Power of the Most High, descended into the prophets, and through them spake of the creation of the world and of all other things; for
the prophets were not when the world was made; but the wisdom of God who was in him, and his Holy Word, who was always present with him."*
The next in order of the Fathers of the Christian church, whom I shall mention in this place, is IRENÆUS. He was by birth a Greek, and born, it is thought, at or near the city of Smyrna, A. D 140; and died in 202. Tertullian mentions him with high respect, and says, he was one of the most considerable writers of the Christian church, “a diligent inquirer of all sorts of opinions"--meaning, probably, that Irenæus had well studied the sentiments of the heathen philosophers and heretics, as well as the principles of Christianity. He is said to have been trained up in the studies of philosophy and human learning; after which he became a disciple of Polycarp, whom he accompanied to Rome, on the controversy which then agitated the churches, concerning the time of keeping Easter. While at Rome, Irenæus was prevailed upon by the joint solicitations of Polycarp and Anicetus, the bishop of Rome, to go to France, where great numbers of Greeks, who had embraced the
Tatian, who flourished about the year 172, was born in Assyria, and was originally a heathen, but was converted to Christianity by reading the sacred writings. He was a disciple of Justin Martyr ; but is said to have imbibed many strange and erroneous opinions after the death of his master, on which account he is seldom reckoned among the Christian Fathers. “ Puffed up," says Jerome, "with the pride of eloquence, he founded a new heresy, called that of the Encraitites
condemned the use of wine-denied the lawfulness of marriage, &c. &c. He was the author of numerous treatises, of which only one remains ; namely, his Oration against the Greeks.” In this work, Tatian inveighs strongly against the heathens; he tells them they boasted of arts wbich they never invented, and, though they now possessed them, they perverted them to the worst of purposes. Rhetoric they used to serve the purposes of calumny and injustice-Poetry, to corrupt the morals of mankind--and Philosophy, to confirm and sanction their monstrous errors. He then takes occasion to speak of the true God-his Word, or Son—the creation of the world—the fall of man-his restoration by Christ--the resurrection of the body, and a future judgment: after which he compares the Christian system with that of the beathens, and demonstrates its superior excellence. He has some very extravagant and absurd speculations respecting the human soul, which are not worth detailing. On the subject of the antiquity of the sacred records, he speaks with great force and argument, showing that Moses wrote long before Homer, and that the age of Homer was altogether uncertain ; some placing him eighty years after the siege of Troy; others four and some five hundred. Finally, he shows the absurd. ity and iniquity of many of the Pagan rites and ceremonies, which he bad observed in his travels over the world,
gospel, had taken up their residence, especially about Marseilles; and the churches in that country were beginning to be disturbed by some pernicious heresies. Having arrived at Lyons, where there was a considerable church, under the pastoral care of Pothinus, Irenæus took up his residence there, and continued several years an assistant to Pothinus, in the elder's office, and by his behaviour distinguished himself so much that, about the year 177, he was chosen to draw up the opinion and judgment of the churches of Lyons and Vienne, in order to compose the differences lately raised by Montanus and his followers, the result of which was transmitted to the churches in Asia. In the same letter Irenæus took an opportunity of giving an account of the terrible persecution which then raged against the churches of Vienne and Lyons, and of which particular mention has been made in a former Lecture.
On the martyrdom of Pothinus, Irenæus became his successor in the pastoral office over the church in Lyons, in a troublesome and tempestuous time; when it was assaulted by enemies from without, who persecuted them on account of their Christian profession, while men of corrupt minds rose up among themselves, propagating destructive heresies. The last-mentioned evil induced him, at the request of many of his friends, to undertake his elaborate work “ Against Heresies,” part of which is still extant under his name. This treatise is mostly directed against Valentinus and his followers; that is, against what is usually termed the Gnostic heresy, which indeed had been smothering from the days of the apostles, but which, about the year 150, was fanned into a flame by the writings of Valentinus, an Egyptian, who, being foiled in some of his ambitious views, began to promulgate his pestilential opinions at Rome, and also through Asia and Africa. The Gnostics were a baneful progeny, and ranked among them-Simon Magus, Menander, Saturninus, Basilides, Carpocrates, and Valentinus.
In his work against heresies, Irenæus has shown himself well acquainted with the heathen authors, and the absurd and intricate notions of heretics, as well as with the scriptures of the Old and New Testament. He was at the same time a man of great modesty and humility, and a lover of peace, of which he has given proof in his letter to Victor, bishop of Rome, occasioned by the controversy about the time of keeping Easter. His writings are not free from imperfections ; but he has given such demonstrations of learning, integrity, and good sense, on the whole, that every competent and candid judge must regard him as an ornament to the Christian name.
We now proceed to take some notice of CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, an eminent father of the church, who lived in the end of the second and beginning of the third century. He is, by some, termed an Athenian, but by others an Alexandrian, on which account he is usually called Clemens Alexandrinus, by way of distinguishing him from Clemens Romanus. We have no certain account of the time of either his birth or his death; but there is no doubt of his having flourished in the latter part of the second and beginning of the third century; that is, between the years 192 and 217. About the period of the former of these dates an application was made to Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria, to send Missionaries to preach the gospel among the Indians, and Pantænus, who at that time presided over the catechetical school of Alexandria, was selected for that purpose. On his going into Ethiopia, about the year 190, Clemens succeeded him in the office of preceptor, and several eminent men are said to have been educated by him, among whom are mentioned the celebrated Origen, and Alexander bishop of Jerusalem.
What the particular duties of the Catechist were I do not undertake to explain; but it appears that, when Clement had discharged them for some years, he was called to the pastoral office; about which time he undertook a defence of Christianity against both Pagans and Heretics, in a work entitled Stromata —the title intimating that it was of a miscellaneous nature. In this work he made so great a collection of heathen learning, for the purpose of showing the agreement there is between some of the choicest opinions of their philosophers and certain doctrines of Christianity, which were held in common, as proves him to have read almost every thing that had been written: his reading, as is admitted on all hands, was certainly prodigious. But when the emperor Severus commenced a persecution against the Christians, A. D. 202, Clement found himself under the necessity of retiring from Alexandria in or