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produce must prove worthy of attention, as well from the character and skill of their author, as from the extremely interesting circumstances which have called them forth.
The circumstances which have called them forth are briefly explained in the Preface. For the last fifteen years, the writer says, religious journals and other works have been greatly multiplied on the Continent, and, with two or three exceptions, have been devoted with one spirit to an exclusive faith, and the propagation of a few dogmas about which men have been disputing for fourteen centuries. If these were merely points of theory and speculation, the discussion of which would end in the adoption of one or another opinion, it would hardly be worth while to interfere; but in his view they are points which misrepresent and disfigure the religion of Christ, and hinder the progress of the Reformation. They tend to disgust and alienate inquiring Catholics, who are dissatisfied with their own church and would gladly join a rational Protestantism; and they drive inquiring Protestants into infidelity, by representing that to be Christianity which they can neither comprehend nor approve. It is on this account that M. Chenevière takes his
pen. I accuse no one, and I respect motives. My sincere desire is to ascertain the truth; and to bring back to Christianity any who may have been repelled from it, by painting it in its true colors, such as it is, the best gift of Heaven to man.'
To the doctrine of the Trinity, which presents itself first for consideration, he thinks that a greater importance has been attributed than is its due; in which opinion we perhaps agree with him in the main ; and yet, while it is a dogma esteemed essential by those who hold it, and maintaining such a position in their system of error that a fatal blow here will be the distruction of the system itself, it seems to be right and wise to make this the point of assault. It is not however the only point, and M. Chenevière himself is engaged in attacking other positions as well as this.
M. Chenevière divides his subject into three parts; containing respectively the arguments from history, from reason, and from Scripture.
In the first part, it is his object to show that the doctrine of the Trinity was unknown to the primitive church. There were, it is true, certain Christian believers and writers after the year 150, who were fond of exalting the person of the
Saviour; but until after the Council of Nice in 325, the great body of Christians by no means held Jesus to be equal, consubstantial, and coëssential with the Father. It was only at the Council of Constantinople in 381, that the doctrine was put into this form. And this was the result of violent and long discussions, during which it is easy to trace the manner in which this dogma grew up, one step after another, by a gradual but visible departure from the original belief of the Christian world. The whole doctrinal history of this period, it has always seemed to us, is to be found comprized, as in a summary abridgment, in the three well known creeds, called the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian. Each of these records and marks the state opinion at the time when it was compiled; and by comparing them with each other we discern the changes which took place from time to time in the received doctrine. The comparison is a very edifying one, and has all the force of demonstration. The Apostles' creed its strictly and unequivocally unitarian, and its formation and reception at that early day proves, as decidedly as any document can do, that the doctrine of the Trinity was not then the doctrine of the believers; because, if it had been, it must have found a place in that summary of the faith. The Nicene creed is Arian ;* and being framed for the purpose of settling the violent disputes which had been raging respecting the person of Christ by an authoritative declaration of the truth, must undoubtedly record the doctrine then held by the church. And it is by no means that of the Trinity. So that here is another public manifesto of the church, as late as the year 325, proving that at that date the doctrine of the Trinity was not the faith of the church. But the decision at Nice did not prevent the continuance of discussion. The controversy went on; and in 381 another Council at Constantinople put
* The remark of Mr. Harris of Glasgow, that this creed, though meant to condemn the doctrines of Arius, is in fact their confirmation,' is perfectly just. There is nothing like the Trinity to be found in it. Dr. Adam Clarke speaks to the purpose on this point. 'It is said that Arius subscribed this creed; and well he might, and so may every Arian in the universe, and be an Arian still. But a genuine Trinitarian, who believes in the infinite and eternal godhead of Christ, and who properly considers the import of the terms made use of by the Council, could not, in my opinion, subscribe it either for peace or conscience sake. We are much of the same mind. See Harris's "Antichrist, what it is, and what it is not.' 2nd Ed. P.
23. VOL. XII.
N. S. VOL. VII. NO. I.
the “finishing touch,' as Mosheim calls it, to the doctrine of the Trinity. From this date, and not before, it became the doctrine of the church. In the year 440 it had become so established, that the Doxology, which had been hitherto, like those of Scripture, an ascription to the one God, the Father, took the unscriptural form in which it has since passed down through the Romish to the English and other Orthodox churches; perpetuating, by its incessant repetition and its alliance with music, the error which it so sonorously set forth. At length, in the fifth century was fabricated the Athanasian creed, we know not by what ruffian hand, certainly not by that of Athanasius, - Vigilius of Thapsus has the credit of it, - which excelled all previous annunciations of the mysterious dogina in the ingenious variations of its paradoxical assertions, and in the heartiness of its unqualified anathemas. Now we say, that if all history were silent, if no record had come down to us respecting the faith of the first centuries, these creeds themselves would furnish incontrovertible evidence that the doctrine of the Trinity did not exist prior to the middle of the fourth century, and that it was a corruption, gradually introduced, of the true original doctrine.
M. Chenevière, however, examines the historical documents of the times, and collects from them the proof of the same fact. He shows that there is ample reason to believe that the earliest converts, both Jewish and Gentile, held to the simple doctrine of the divine unity, and that such was the opinion of the Fathers prior to the Council of Nice. He then gives the history of the manner in which the doctrine was introduced, its origin among the Platonists, and the circumstances under which it was borrowed from them and made
prevalent in the church. The chapter closes with a sketch of the history of the doctrine down to the present time.
The Second Part of the Essay is employed upon the argument from reason; showing that the doctrine in question is contrary to reason, by what he calls proofs direct, and proofs indirect.
He begins by setting aside the plea that this doctrine is a mystery, above reason, and therefore not to be judged by
What he says on this head is brief, but forcible. *We know that there are mysteries in the gospel, which present difficulties impossible to be resolved, and yet we are by no means to reject them on that account; for they are expressly
taught, and they in no degree contravene the acknowledged laws of reason, though they pass its reach. It is sufficient to say, a mystery revealed by God in the gospel may remain impenetrably obscure in all that regards the nature of the object, the manner of its existence, and any of the elements of which it is composed ; – but it must always have a precise meaning, and represent clear and exact ideas; we must be able to separate the different ideas which compose it, so as to leave a distinct notion in the mind. Thus, the eternity of God surpasses my comprehension ; no one can explain it. I admit it however, because, in decomposing it, I arrive at this distinct and true notion, - birth and death cannot be predicated of God. I know ,
I what is meant by the term. There is no contradiction to my reason, though it is beyond my reason to comprehend it. But when I perceive in a proposition an evident contradiction between the ideas which compose it, so that I cannot state them without immediately provoking reasonable and unanswerable opposition, then I say rightly, that it is a contradictory proposition, and not a mystery. The Trinity is of this character.'
He then proceeds to show, that in whichever of the various senses that have been given to them, you understand the terms person, substance, essence, hypostasis, &c., the proposition that there are three persons in one God involves inextricable contradictions. For example, as regards the word person, he shows that if it be understood in its usual sense, as intending a living substance which possesses consciousness of existence and is endowed with intelligence and will, then there must be three Gods, and Trinitarians are Tritheists. If any other definition be adopted, then there will be only one God, but there will be no Trinity. Nothing can be clearer than this; and hence professed Trinitarianism amounts to no more, in almost all cases, than a recognition of God under three different characters.
Amongst other instances of the perplexity created by the different interpretations put on the leading words in this controversy, he cites Calvin's sense of the word essence. That Reformer used it as synonymous with substance. But thus, says our author, 'the doctrine becomes more and more complicated. For if God, who embraces Father, Son, and Spirit, is one substance or being; if the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are each of them a substance or person; then it follows, that, of four substances, that which comprises three others is not a simple substance ; that there are four divine
persons instead of three, and that the Trinity becomes a quaternity, -as Gentilis proved to Calvin; and, as no solid answer could be given to this theologian, he was burnt.'
The indirect proofs of the unreasonableness of the doctrine are drawn from the efforts made by Trinitarians to reconcile the contradictions which exist in their system. M. Chenevière examines the explanations and illustrations which have been given by Saurin, Leibnitz, and others, and shows how utterly unable they have been, after the most anxious attempts, to place the doctrine upon any ground consistent with
Its present advocates, he remarks, grown wise by the failure of their predecessors, have abandoned the attempt; they do not pretend to explain it, or to prove its reasonableness; they satisfy themselves with saying, that it is to be found in certain passages of Scripture, and is for that cause alone to be received. He proceeds therefore to an examination of these passages.
This constitutes the first chapter of the Third Part of his Essay.
He begins with remarking a fact, which he justly says has great weight in it, — that there is not one of the passages in question, excepting the first fourteen verses of John's Gospel, which has not been given up as proving nothing by some one of the Trinitarian divines, even though esteemed decisive by others. This is by no means the case with the passages
cited in proof on the other side. Now what is to be thought of an argument, every link of which has been declared by some of its friends to be unsound?
Having discussed these several passages, he states, in the next chapter, the teaching of the Scriptures respecting the person of Jesus Christ.' His first proposition is, ' Jesus existed in heaven before his appearance on earth. The discussion is introduced with this remark.
"I have read and meditated all that the English Unitarians and theologians of different nations have written in opposition to the position I support. I do not deny the force of some of their arguments; but I believe in the preëxistence of Christ, because of certain passages, well known, often attacked, but which seem to me to receive a forced and unsatisfactory explanation, when interpreted according to a system opposed to my own.'
The next chapter discusses the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, examining the several senses in which the word spirit is used in the Bible, and showing that its separate personality is not