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A History Of The Church In Seven Books by Socrates

As soon as Eusebius reached Alexandria, he in concert with Athanasius immediately convoked a Synod. The bishops assembled on this occasion out of various cities, took into consideration many subjects of the utmost importance. They asserted the divinity of the Holy Spirit, and comprehended him in the consubstantial Trinity: they also declared that the Word in being made man, assumed not only flesh, but also a soul, in accordance with the views of the early ecclesiastics. For they avoided the introduction of any new doctrine of their own devising into the church, but contented themselves with recording their sanction of those points which ecclesiastical tradition has insisted on from the beginning, and the most profound Christian doctors have demonstratively taught. Such sentiments the ancient fathers have uniformly maintained in all their controversial writings. Irenæus, Clemens, Apollinaris of Hierapolis, and Serapion who presided over the church at Antioch, assure us in their several works, that it was the generally received opinion that Christ in his incarnation was endowed with a soul. Moreover the Synod convened on account of Berillus bishop of Philadelphia in Arabia, recognised the same doctrine in their letter to that prelate. The same thing is everywhere admitted by Origen, but he more particularly explains this mystery in the ninth volume of his “Comments upon Genesis,” where he shows that Adam and Eve were types of Christ and the church. That holy man Pamphilus, and Eusebius who was surnamed after him, are authorities on this subject not to be contemned: both these witnesses in their joint life of Origen, and admirable defence of him in answer to such as were prejudiced against him, prove that he was not the first who made this declaration, but that in doing so he was the mere expositor of the mystical tradition of the church. Those who assisted at the Alexandrine Council examined also with great minuteness the question concerning Essence or Substance, and Existence, Subsistence, or Personality. For Hosius bishop of Cordova in Spain, who has been before referred to as having been sent by the emperor Constantine to allay the excitement which Arius had caused, originated the controversy about these terms in his earnestness to overthrow the dogma of Sabellius the Libyan. In the council of Nice however, which was held soon after, this dispute was not agitated; but in consequence of the contention about it which subsequently arose, the matter was freely discussed at Alexandria. It was there determined that such expressions as ousia and hypostasis ought not to be used in reference to God: for they argued that the word ousia is nowhere employed in the sacred Scriptures; and that the apostle has misapplied the term hypostasis in attempting to describe that which is ineffable. They nevertheless decided that in refutation of the Sabellian error these terms were admissible, in default of more appropriate language, lest it should be supposed that one thing was indicated by a threefold designation; whereas we ought rather to believe that each of those named in the Trinity is God in his own proper person. Such were the decisions of this Synod. If we may express our own judgment on this matter, it appears to us that the Greek philosophers have given us various definitions of ousia, but have not taken the slightest notice of hypostasis. Irenæus the grammarian indeed, in his Alphabetical Lexicon entitled “Atticistes,” declares it to be a barbarous term which is not to be found in any of the ancients, except occasionally in a sense quite different from that which is attached to it in the present day. Thus Sophocles, in his tragedy entitled “Phœnix,” uses it to signify treachery: in Menander it implies sauces; and another calls the sediment at the bottom of a hogshead of wine hypostasis. But although the ancient philosophical writers scarcely noticed this word, the more, modern ones have frequently used it instead of ousia. This term, as we before observed, has been variously defined: but can that which is capable of being circumscribed by a definition be applicable to God who is incomprehensible? Evagrius in his “Monachicus,” cautions us against rash and inconsiderate language in reference to God; forbidding all attempt to define the divinity, inasmuch as it is wholly simple in its nature: “for,” says he, “definition belongs only to things which are compound.” The same author further adds, “Every proposition has either a genus which is predicated, or a species, or a differentia, or a proprium, or an accidens, or that which is compounded of these: but none of these can be supposed to exist in the sacred Trinity. Let then what is inexplicable be adored in silence.” Such is the reasoning of Evagrins, of whom we shall again speak hereafter. We have indeed made a digression here, but such as will tend to illustrate the subject under consideration.








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