Page images
PDF
EPUB

any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on him ?" John 7: 48. Now, in our way of using words, we should be apt to say that all his adherents were of the Pharisees; for the pharisaical was the only popular doctrine. But it was not to the followers, but to the leaders, that the name of the sect was applied. Here, however, we must except the Essenes, who, as they all, of whatever rank originally, entered into a solemn engagement whereby they confined themselves to a peculiar mode of life, which in a great measure secluded them from the rest of mankind, were considered almost in the same manner as we do the Benedictines or Dominicans, or any order of monks or friars among the Romanists.

Josephus, in the account he has given of the Jewish sects, considers them all as parties who supported different systems of philosophy, and has been not a little censured for this by some critics. But, as things were understood then, this manner of considering them was not unnatural. Theology, morality, and questions regarding the immortality of the soul and a future state, were principal branches of their philosophy. “Philosophia,” says Cicero, *

nos primum ad deoruin cultum, deinde ad jus hominum quod situm est in generis humani societate, tum ad modestiam, magnitudinemque animi erudivit ; eadenique ab animo tanquam ab oculis, caliginem dispulit, ut omnia supera, infera, prima, ultima, media, videremus." Besides, as it was only men of eminence qualified to guide and instruct the people who were dignified with the title either of Pharisee or of Sadducee, there was nothing so analogous among the Pagans as their different sects of philosophers, the Stoics, the Academics, and the Epicureans, to whom also the general term aipenis was commonly applied. Epiphanius, a Cliristian writer of the fourth century, from the same view of things with Josephus, reckons among the aiotoses, sects, or heresies, if you please to call them so, which arose among the Greeks before the coming of Christ, these classes of philosophers—the Stoics, the Platonists, the Pythagoreans, and the Epicoreans. Of this writer it may also be remarked, that in the first part of his work he evidently uses the word uigenis in all the latitude in which it had been employed by the sacred writers, as signifying sect or party of any kind, and without any note of censure; otherwise he would never have numbered Judaism, whose origin he derives from the command which God gave to Abraham lo circumcise all the males of his family, anong the original heresies. Thus, in laying down the plan of his work, he says, 'Εν τω ουν πρώτο βιβλίο πρώτου τόμου αίρεσεις είκοσιν, αι εσίν αίδε, βαρβαρισμός, σκυθισμος ελληνισμός, ιουδαϊσμός, κ. τ. ε. This only by the way.

* Tuscul. quæst. lib. I. + This import of the word heresy in Epiphanius has not escaped the VOL. I.

42

7. But it may be asked, is not the acceptation of the word in the epistles different from what it has been observed to be in the historical books of the New Testament? Is it not in the former invariably used in a bad sense, as denoting something wrong and blameable ? That in these indeed it always depotes something faulty, or even criminal, I am far from disputing ; nevertheless, the acceptation is not materially different from that in which it always occurs in the Acts of the Apostles. In order to remove the apparent inconsistency in what has been now advanced, let it be observed, that the word sect has always something relative in it; and therefore, in different applications, though the general import of the term be the same, it will convey a favorable idea or an unfavorable, according to the particular relation it bears. I explain myself by examples. The word sect may be used along with the proper name, purely by way of distinction from another party of a different name; in which case the word is not understood to convey either praise or blame. Of this we have examples in the phrases above quoted—the sect of the Pharisees, the sect of the Sadducees, the sect of the Nazarenes. In this way we may. speak of a strict sect or a lax sect, or even of a good sect or bad sect. If any thing reprehensible or commendable be suggested, it is not suggested by the term sect, uigeois, but by the words construed with it. Again, it may be applied to a formed party in a community, considered in reference to the whole. If the community, of which the sect is a part, be of such a nature as not to admit this subdivision without impairing and corrupting its constitution, to charge them with splitting into sects, or forming parties, is to charge them with corruption in wbat is most essential to them as a society. Hence arises all the difference there is in the word, as used in the history, and as used in the epistles of Peter and Paul; for these are the only apostles who employ it. In the history, the reference is always of the first kind; in the epistles, always of the second. In these, the apostles address themselves only to Christians, and are not speaking of sects without the church, but either reprehending them for, or warning them against sorming sects among themselves, to the prejudice of charity, to the production of much mischief within their community, and of great scandal to the unconverted world without. So Paul's words to the Corinthians were understood by Chrysostom and other ancient exposi

In both applications, however, the radical import of the word is the same.

8. But even here it has no necessary reference to doctrine, true

observation of the author of Dictionnaire Historique des Auteurs Ecclesiastiques, who says, “ Par le mot d'hérésies, St. Epiphane entend une secte ou une societé d'hommes, qui ont, sur la religion, des sentimens particuliers."

or false. Let us attend to the first passage in which it occurs in the Epistles, and we shall be fully satisfied of the truth of this reinark. It follows one quoted in Part III, of this Dissertation. “ For there must be alio heresies among you," i Cor. 11: 19. Δεϊ γαρ και αιρέσεις εν υμίν είναι. Υe must also have sects amongst you. It is plain, that what he reproves under the name oxiouuta in the former verse, is in effect the same with what he here denominates αιρέσεις. Now, tlie term σχίσμα I have shown already to have there no relation to any erroneous tenet, but solely to undue regards to some individual teachers, to the prejudice of others, and of the common cause. In another passage of this Epistle, (chap. 3: 3), where, speaking of the very same reprehensible conduct, he uses the words strife and factions, έρις και διχοστασίαι, words nearly coincident with σχίσματα και αιρέσεις, bis whole aim in these reprehensions is well expressed in these words, " that ye might learn in us” (that is, in bimself and Apollos, whom he had named for example's sake) “not to think of men above that which is written," above what Scripture warrants, "that no one of you be puffed up for one,” make your boast of one, “ against another," chap. 4: 6.

9. It may be said, Does not this explanation represent the two words schism and heresy as synonymous ? That there is a great affinity in their significations is manisest ; but they are not convertible terms. I do not find that the word oxiqua is ever applied in holy writ to a formed party, to which the word uipeous is commonly applied. I understand ihein in the Epistles of this apostle, as expressive of different degrees of the same evil. An undue attachment to one part, and a consequent alienation of affection from another part

of the Christian community, comes under the denomination of oyloua. When this diposition has proceeded so far as to produce an actual party or faction among them, this effect is termed aioeous. And it lias been remarked, that even this term was at that time currently applied, when matters had not come to an open rupture and separation in point of communion. There was no appearance of this at the time referred to among the Corinthians. And even in Judaism, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the two principal sects, nay, the only sects mentioned in the Gospel, and (which is still more extraordinary) more widely different in their religious sentiments than any two Christian sects, still joined together, as was but just now observed, in all the offices of religious service, and had neither different priests and ministers, nor separate places for social worship, the reading of the law, or the observance of the ordinances.

10. It will perhaps be said, that, in the use at least which the a postle Peter has made of this word, it must be understood to include some gross errors, subversive of the very foundations of the faith. The words in the common version are, " But there were salse prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in dainnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction," 2 Pet. 2: 1. That the apostle in this passage foretels that there will arise such uigionis, sects or sactions, as will be artsully and surreptitiously formed by teachers who will entertain such pernicious doctrines, is most certain ; but there is not the least appearance that this last character was meant to be implied in the word oiuerets: So far from it, that this character is subjoined as additional information concerning, not the people seduced, or the party, but the seducing teachers; for it is of them only (though one would judge differently from our version) that what is contained in the latter part of the verse is affirmed. The words in the original are, Εν υμίν έσονται ψευδοδιδάσκαλοι, οίτινες παρεισέξουσιν αιρέσεις απωλείας, και τον αγοράσαντα αυτούς δεσπότην αρνούμενοι, επάγοντες εαυτούς ταχινήν απώλειαν. Οbserve it is αρνούuevou and inayovres, in the masculine gender and nominative case, agreeing with ψευδοδιδάσκαλοι και οι αρνούμενας and επάγουσας, in the feminine gender and accusative case, agreeing with aigérals. Again, if the word uiocoes did not imply the effect produced, sects or factions, but the opinions taught, whether true or false, which are often, not always, the secret spring of division, he would probably have expressed himself in this manner, ψευδοδιδάσκαλοι οίτινες διδάξουσι aid oeis Anosias, who will teach damnable, or rather destructive, heresies : for doctrine of every kind, sound and unsound, true and false, is properly said to be taught; but neither bere, nor any where else in Scripture, I may safely add, nor in any of the writings of the two first centuries, do we ever find the word uiocos construed with deddoxo), xnguoon), or any word of like import; or an opinion, true or false, denominated aiyents. There are, therefore, two distinct and separate evils in those false teachers, of which the apostle here gives warning. One is, their making division, by forming to themselves sects or parties of adherents; the other is, the destructive principles they will entertain, and doubtless, as they find occasion, disseminate among their votaries.

11. The only other passage in which the word aineois occurs in the New Testament, is where Paul numbers aige'oeis, sects, among the works of the Aesh, Gal. 5: 20, and very properly subjoin, them to diyooragiai, factions, as the word ought to be rendered, according to the sense in which the apostle always uses it. Such distinctions and divisions among themselves, he well knew, could not fail to alienate affection and infuse animosity. Hence we may learn io understand the admonition of the apostle, “ A man that is a heretic," aigerixov övzponov, " after the first and second admonition reject, knowing that he that is such is subverted and sinneth,

[ocr errors]

being condemned of himself,” Tit. 3: 10, 11. It is plain, from the character here given, as well as from the genius of the language, that the word aioetizós in this place does not mean a member of an aigeous or sect, who may be unconscious of any fault, and so is not equivalent to our word sectary; much less does it answer to the English word heretic, which always implies one who entertains opinions in religion, not only erroneous but pernicious: whereas we have shown that the word algeous, in Scriptural use, has no necessary connection with opinion at all; its immediate connection is with division or dissension, as it is thereby that sects and parties are formed. Αιρετικός άνθρωπος must therefore mean one who is the founder of a sect, or at least has the disposition to create aioéoals, or sects, in the community, and may properly be rendered a factious man. This version perfectly coincides with the scope of the place, and suits the uniform import of the term aloeois, from which it is derived. The admonition here given to Titus is the same, though differently expressed, with what he had given to the Romans, when he said, “ Mark them which cause divisions," diyooradias nocoūvias, make parties or factions, “and avoid them," Rom. 16: 17. As far down indeed as the fisth century, and even lower, error alone, however gross, was not considered as sufficient to warrant the charge of heresy. Malignity, or perverseness of disposition, was held essential to this crime. Hence the famous adage of Augustine, “ Errare possum, hæreticus esse nolo ;" which plainly implies, that no error in judgment on any article, of what importance soever, can make a man a heretic, where there is not pravity of will. To this sentiment even the schoolmen have shown regard in their definitions. “Heresy,” say they, “is an opinion maintained with obstinacy against the doctrine of the church.” But if we examine a little their reasoning on the subject, we shall quickly find the qualifying phrase, maintained with obstinacy, to be mere words, which add nothing to the sense ; for if what they account the church have declared against the opinion, a man's obstinacy is concluded from barely maintaining the opinion, in what way soever he maintained it, or from what motives soever he be actuated. Thus mere mistake is made at length to incur the reproach originally levelled against an aspiring factious temper, which would sacrifice the dearest interests of society to its own ambition.

12. I cannot omit taking notice here by the way, that the late Dr. Foster, an eminent English dissenting mivister, in a sermon he preached on this subject, has, in my opinion, quite mistaken the import of the term. He had the discernment to discover, that the characters annexed would not suit the common acceptation of the word heretic; yet he was so far misled by that acceptation as to think that error in doctrine must be included as part of the description, and therefore defined a heretic in the apostle's sense,

a per

« PreviousContinue »