Century IV, Chapter XX

CHAP. XX.

CHRISTIAN AUTHORS IN THIS CENTURY.

Maearius. Tn Ere were several persons of the name of Macarius, who lived much about the same time. Hence it is as difficult as it would be uninteresting to determine to which of them the fifty homilies yet extant belong. Their antiquity is doubtless great, and they give no small specimen of the divinity of the times. These are a few of the favourite thoughts of Macarius:

" Though a man be improved in virtue, he ought to look on himself as one who has done nothing, and should press forward to greater degrees, lest he lose the Holy Spirit by pride or sloth.—Man is capable of falling from that state of holiness in which he is, unless he preserve himself in it by humility, which is the infallible mark of a Christian.—Those who have not yet received grace, ought to do good

* Sozomen, B. VI. c. 34.

and forsake evil by natural motives; but those Cent.

who have received it, being possessed of love, need . TM' .

not such motives."—He thinks, that men may fall away after the highest attainments, and that it is impossible for any to be certain of his salvation in this life. He observes, that to grow in grace without humility is impossible; that the soul after death goes immediately to that place, on which its love was fixed in this life ; that whatever good a man does by natural strength, can never save him without the grace of Jesus Christ; that if the Holy Spirit does not produce in us the love of God, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. He is fond of showing, that we ought always so to labour, as if all depended on our own endeavours, and yet to acknowledge that we can do nothing without God*.

Certainly a serious and humble spirit runs through these homilies, and they seem to have been written by a man earnestly engaged in the divine life, and sensible of the need of divine grace. With such dim kind of light many humble souls, in the dark ages, groped in their way safe to the heavenly kingdom, though, like Macarius, poorly furnished with evangelical views and doctrines. These men saw and felt, however, the necessity of conversion, and the importance of a principle of divine love; and hence their obscure light deserves to be called midday, compared with the darkness of those, who put mere natural light in the room of the illumination of the Holy Ghost, and mere moral virtue in the room of divine charity.

Victorinus of Africa had professed rhetoric many victorimu. years at Rome, and was held in such high reputation, that a public statue was erected to his honour in the city. In his old age, however, he was converted, and was not ashamed to confess the faith of Christ in public. An animated and instructive * Du Pio, Cent. IV. Macarii.

Chap- account of this is given by Augustine in his Confes. x*' , sions, which may meet us hereafter. At present, we are to view him as an author. He wrote against the Arians and the Manichees. In his treatise against the latter- he addresses his friend Justinus, who had been deceived by them, in this manner: " In vain do you macerate yourself with excessive mortifications; for after you have worn away yourself by your austerities, your flesh will return to the devil in darkness. I advise you to acknowledge, that God Almighty created you, that you may be truly the temple of God, according to the words of the Apostle, 4 ye are the temple of God, and his Spirit dwelleth in you.' If you have not the honour to be the temple of God, and to receive the Holy Spirit in you, Jesus Christ is come, not to save, but to destroy you *."

The spirit of godliness, unquestionably, possessed this man ; but his writings are, at present at least, very little interesting, though the passage I have quoted shows his holy taste. It were to be wished, that instead of subtilizing intricate controversies, he had favoured posterity with a plain view of the Lord's dealings with his own soul, which must, in a conversion so extraordinary as his, have been very instructive, and for the execution of which he must have been far more competent than for the invention or description of theological theories. But the humour of philosophical refinement guided far too much the best writers of these times, even such as Victorinus, who, being converted in his old age, was, probably, never well qualified to expound the Scriptures. If the reader regret how little of experimental divinity is laid before him, I join with his complaint: but my materials suffer me not to apply a remedy. Pocianui. Pacianus, bishop of Barcelona in Spain, was a man renowned both for piety and eloquence. Like * Du Pin, Cent. IV. Victorinus.

most of this age, he exalts too much the forms of Cent. the church, and the dignity of the priesthood. Yet . Iv' t a strain of holy fervour seems to pervade his writings, and he combats the peculiar error of inflexible severity in the Novatians with just argument and charitable sentiments. " If a man be subject to these miseries (of sinning away his privileges) let us no more accuse the mercy of God, who has proposed these remedies to our diseases; let us no more efface the titles of God's clemency by an insupportable rigour, nor hinder sinners, by an inflexible hardness, from rejoicing in those gifts which God has bestowed upon them*."

This is doubtless right; but when he excludes the Novatians from any part in the blessings of the church, because of their schism, he doubtless falls into uncharitable bigotry, in which both churchmen and dissenters too much abounded; though, I apprehend, in obscure regions this evil more prevailed. We have seen, in what Christian charity the general church and Novatians could live in the great city of Constantinople.

Optatus, bishop of Melevi in Numidia, deserves Optatus a place in these memoirs, on account of his judicious "TMj"t thf and able treatise against the Donatists. Of him, Donatist», as of many other sensible writers, It is To Be Re- a- d. Gretted, that he did not choose a more useful 37°subject. The case of the Donatists I shall reserve to the time of Augustine, whose character and conduct are much connected with the history of these dissenters. Of course, I have little to say of Optatus's writings. A serious spirit appears in them; and a single passage, which is introduced, in the way of digression, contains matter so truly Christian, that the reader will think it worth our attention ; as it demonstrates, that evangelical truth was far from being lost as yet amidst the thick i of superstition, and that the true resting-place * Du Pin, Cent. IV. Pacianus.

of the soul in the doctrine of justification by Jesus Christ, the true humility, and real plan of sanctification, were understood, in some degree at least, by this author. Rebuking the pride of the Donatists, who boasted themselves to be holy and innocent, he says, " Whence comes this sanctity of yours, which the Apostle St. John dared not attribute to himself, seeing he says, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. He who speaks after this manner,

WISELY REFERS HIMSELF TO THE MERCY OF GoD J

for a Christian may desire good, and endeavour to walk in the way of salvation; but he cannot be perfect of himself. For though he does run, yet there will always remain something to be done by God to perfect him; and it is necessary that God should help a man in his weakness; for He is perfection, and there never was any but Jesus Christ the Son of God, who was perfect. All other men are imperfect. It belongs to us, to will and "qq' to run, but God only can give perfection. Jesus Christ has not given us perfect holiness, but has only promised it*. Apollinarii. The Apollinarii, father and son, were of Laodicea;

the father a presbyter, the son a reader in the church. Both were skilled in Greek literature; the father taught grammar, the son rhetoric. Epiphanius, a sophist, was united with them in the closest intimacy. Theodotus, bishop of Laodicea, very properly fearing that the connexion with a Pagan might endanger their souls, advised them to give up his acquaintance. They despised the advice, and persisted. George, the successor of Theodotus, afterward attempting in vain the same thing, expelled them at length from Christian communion. Incensed at this, they set up a new sect, known by the name of the Apollinarian heresy, the principal mark of which is, that it ascertains precisely one point of the Arian * Du Pin, Cent. IV. OpUtus.

Dies about
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creed, by denying to our Saviour a human soul, and supposing the inferior divine nature, which he had from the Father, to supply its place*.

These men were doubtless persons of superior capacity. The son, particularly, was one of the greatest men of his time, in learning, genius, and powers of argument. His answer to Porphyry is looked on as the best defence of Christianity against Paganism. He it was, who, in Julian's time, endeavoured to compensate to the Christian world the loss of the classical authors, from the study of whom they were debarred by the persecution of that emperor. He wrote poems and dialogues, in imitation of Sophocles and Plato, on scriptural subjects. His translation of the Psalms into Greek verse, which remains to this day, is highly commended -f*.

What was wanting in these men ? Humility. There have been persons in later times, like them, of good moral character, learned, acute, industrious, far surpassing many real saints, in capacity, and in usefulness too, so far as the externals of religion are concerned. Pride and self-confidence lead such men to speculate, where they ought to adore; to dispute, where they ought to pray; and to blaspheme, where they ought to submit. They treat with scorn the charitable admonitions of their pastors and godly friends, because they know languages and sciences better than their reprovers. Strangers to themselves, and to the whole work of the Holy Spirit on the heart, and resisting all his godly motions, they cannot come to Christ, because they are unwilling to descend from their prodigious altitude into the valley of humiliation. Ambition in them must be fed; disappointed in the Church of Christ, they invent corrupt refinements, and seek to become heads of a party. He who knows that God taketh the wise in their craftiness, and revealeth himself to babes, will not stumble at * Socrates, B. II. c. 46. t Du 1>in

Chap, such cases; and those few in all ages who stand t x*- , superior to the rest of mankind in talents, and yet love genuine godliness, are only secured and hedged in by the Divine goodness, through a charitable course of discipline, often more severe than is needful for other Christians. Didymus. Didymus of Alexandria may be fairly matched with Apollinarius, in greatness of understanding and accomplishments. Though he lost his sight at the age of five years, he became so vigorous and successful a student, that he was renowned for his skill in philosophy, rhetoric, and geometry. He filled the chair of the famous school of Alexandria with vast applause. Origenism was his favourite system, though, as far as appears, he continued always sound, and I hope, humble and holy, in Christian doctrine. His treatise on the Holy Spirit, of which only the Latin translation by Jerome has come down to us, is perhaps the best the Christian world ever saw on the subject. And whatever has been said, since that time, in defence of the divinity and personality of the Holy Ghost, seems, in substance, to be found in that book. Gregory Gregory Nyssen, brother of the famous Basil, bam!h"din was tne bishop of Nyssa, a city of Cappadocia. A. Di Basil, and two of his brothers, embraced a solitary 374. life ; but Gregory married, and lived in society. Under Valens, he was faithful, and had the honour Restored in to be expelled from his church. In the year 378, 37** he was restored. He died toward the end of the * century. In a catechetical discourse, he shows a sound judgment, in laying down different rules of argumentation with Pagans, Jews, and Heretics. To defend the incarnation of God, he shows that man is fallen, and corrupted, and can be recovered only by his Creator ; and hence, that the Word who created him, came himself to raise him again. H« shows also, that to be born of a virgin, to eat, to drink, to die, and to be buried, are not things

unbecoming the holy nature of God, because there is no sin in them ; and that the Divinity, united to man, lost not its perfections, any more than the soul loses its properties by its union with the body.

Once visiting Jerusalem, he was hospitably received by three religious ladies of note there, Eustathia, Ambrosia, and Basilissa, and contemplated* with delight the scenes of our Lord's abode on earth. But he tells us, that he found there little of true religion, and returned sorrowful to Antioch, whence he wrote to the three ladies, and cautioned them against being imposed on by those, who desired to make a prey of them. .Being asked by a friend, whether it was an essential part of religion to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he answered in the negative, and that a man had more reason to expect the Spirit of God in Cappadocia, where true piety prevailed, than at Jerusalem, where, it seems, religion was run to a very low ebb. Thus much for Gregory Nyssen, whose piety at least deserves our regard, though as an author, he is in no very high estimation*.