From The Preacher's Magazine



Chapter I. Introduction


Chapter III. The Development of Christian Apologetics (Continued)

Chapter IV. The Influence of Pivotal Theologians Upon Dogma






June 1929


Through the centuries the Church has been shaken by numerous conflicts within her ranks over her credal statements, her dogmas concerning doctrines, polity and organization. Every age has presented its peculiar errors; and each century has seen the rise of doctrines which are unconfirmed by the standard of all theological tenets, the Word of God. As the ages passed on these untruthful doctrines were labeled by the Church fathers, and set aside as unworthy of the sanction of the Church. In many cases councils were called to formulate the true definition of doctrines under contest, and to state with certitude the position of orthodoxy on the dogmas of Christianity. Though a heterodox theory would be sufficiently answered by one age, its power would reassert itself in another, usually under a different cloak, only to be answered once more by the scholars of the Church.

Numerous erroneous doctrines have arisen, which bade fair to shake the credal foundations of the Christian religion; but through it all a divine hand guided, and the erroneous theories soon lost their prestige, and the theological and philosophical background of the Church returned to normalcy. Arianism, in the contest concerning the nature of the Trinity and the position of the Son to the Father, affirmed that Christ was but a creation of the Father. The Council of Nice adopted a confession of faith which declared that the Son was of the same essence (homoousios) as the Father. But through the succeeding eras this doctrine has been faced time and time again; though from the Nicene Council on there has been no community of Arians, nor any creed of Arianism in Christendom, as an accepted, affirmed doctrine of the true Church.

The doctrine of Pelagianism has caused the Church much difficulty; its outstanding tenet being that sin can be regarded only as an act of the individual will, that Adam was created moral, and his sin affected himself alone, and that all men are born moral, without the taint of carnality, or depravity. On the other hand the Arminian doctrine, or as restated in the Wesleyan revival, is the accepted position of historical Methodism concerning depravity, or original guilt, "In Adam all have sinned, and all men are by nature children of wrath."

Socinianism, in its original conception, taught that Christ was miraculously born, that He had a transcendent fellowship with God in heaven during His life, and that after His resurrection He was exalted above every other creature. It did declare that even with all these distinctive virtues Christ was still man, and not essentially God. In its historical development, Socinianism is the father of modern Unitarianism, which denies the divinity, the true deity of Christ. As the ages passed this doctrine underwent numerous restatements and slight changes, but as is the case today, it was always marked with the distinctive feature that it made Christ to be only a man.

From the standpoint of Christian perfection as taught by Wesley, Antinomianism still presents itself as an opposer of the true doctrine. This theory separates the observance of morality and the performances of good works from the life of the Christian. It affirms that we are saved by faith, that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us through faith, and that our good works do not aid in salvation. This view goes hand in hand with Calvinism concerning the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer, and the dogma of the perseverance of the saints. This affirms that a believer, accepted by Christ, may commit the most iniquitous of deeds, and still the imputed righteousness of Christ maintains his status as a child of God.

Calvinism, briefly, affirms that the atonement is limited to the predestinated, that the human will is not free in its choice, and that all the elect shall finally be saved irrespective of their acts, and those who are not among the elect, or predestinated, shall finally be damned, irrespective of their deeds.

Naturalism, or rationalism, through the centuries has existed in one form or another. It affirms that God does not exist, that the material universe is all, that man is only a material mechanism, that the mind of man is sufficient as a standard of purity and of morals. Naturalism has appeared through the centuries under many various covers. Pantheism affirms that the material universe is God, and that besides it there is no God. Deism affirmed that there was a God, but that the universe was under the control of natural laws, and that providence played no part in the affairs neither of nature nor of man. Rationalism, when it appears historically or at present, is in one way or another connected with naturalism. The distinctive tenet of rationalism is that God or no God, the mind of man is supreme as authority, that revelation is an impossibility, that man's codes of ethics are his only standards of conduct to which he shall be amenable.

With this brief survey of some of the outstanding historical errors in the realm of theology, let us turn to modern Christianity with a view of finding such ancient errors in their more recent cloaks. Suffice it to remark that at least in principle every erroneous dogma of the present is but a reoccurrence of an ancient one, and that when rightly understood the same arguments which overcame these doctrines in the past are now applicable to them. Also, when the theological background for these present day theories, creeds and cults is known, it is easier to keep one's self from their clutches and quagmires. The most virile seed-pot for the incubating of cults, isms and heresies, which are groundless and illogical as well as intangible, is the present century. There has never been an age when so many ancient errors have been revived in a modern garb as in this one. Nor has there been a time when within the Church so many subtle, aberrant theological doctrines have made their reappearance as today.

Ours is an age, an epoch when the Church is without a theology. The ministry of the denominations has lost its moorings in a positive statement of orthodox Christian dogmas, and for this reason no standards for the testing of cults, and isms and theological and philosophical tenets are known for judging them as they appear on the stage of action. The cry of modernism is "away with theology!" The reason for this is that without a theological background the church and the ministry are wholly at its mercy. When every minister was a theologian and every seminary felt that its prime duty was to train theological thinkers and heresies were found without the pale of the Church; but when the minister boasts of his lack of interest in doctrine and creed, and bravely affirms that his is a creedless church, then there is created the proper atmosphere for the flourishing of isms and cults, which when tested by those theological positions based on the Bible, are found to be heterodox.

The tragedy of modern Christianity is the fact that our seminaries and ministers, teachers and churches are throwing to the winds the basic doctrines, which through the ages have been the foundations, the elemental positions of Christendom. Now without a creed, without a proper training in things of a doctrinal nature, the Church becomes the target for every new theory and every new doctrine. Under the searching light of theology modernism and present day cults and theories will be revealed in their true light, and will lose their grip upon our age. Our cry then should be, "Let in the light of theology."

The modern reoccurrences of ancient errors in the realm of theology are so numerous that it is almost impossible to classify them. The conception of the average minister in those denominations which tend toward liberalism concerning the doctrine of the Trinity would easily be classified as belonging to Arianism. To him Jesus, while he represents a superior type of manhood, is still man. He would reply to our criticism that he refuses to make Jesus divine, that of course Christ is divine as are all men divine in that they are the sons of God. With reference to Pelagianism it is found that the theology of the modern Church classifies itself thus; for the church that leans toward liberalistic theology conceives of all men as being born neither moral nor immoral, but rather non-moral, and hence without depravity. The present position of religious education is based directly on the thought that there is no such entity as depravity, or carnality. The religious educator conceives of original nature in terms of modern psychology, and not in terms of theology; that is, he states that human nature consists of the inherited natural mechanism, reflexes, instincts and capacities, while theology conceives of man as being born under the moral government of God, and if that theology be Arminian, or Wesleyan, in the fall of Adam, the representative of the race, all the race fell, and man inherits a fallen nature, or in theological phraseology, depravity, or carnality. It is on this basis of the non-moral conception of the original nature that the program of religious education is built, in that it affirms that religion can be taught, rather than achieved through a devotement to the will of God.

Socinianism is the position of Unitarians; it is not only found in this denomination, but it is the view of ninety per cent of the seminary professors of the North, and is being accepted by the younger generation of ministers. This occurs without any great amount of alarm on the part of the Church; for we are living in an age when theology is forgotten, when creed is cast aside, and when dogma must give place to psychology and sociology.

As an outstanding doctrinal tenet Calvinism seems to have been modified, and the position to have shifted somewhat; but when one views the case a little closer and scrutinizes it a little more it is found that the basis of Presbyterianism and of the Baptist Church is still strongly that of Calvinism. Not only is this true, but the position of Calvinism finds an ally in modern mechanistic psychology and naturalistic science, in that both affirm that the will of man is not free in choice, that man is but a mechanism which reacts in a naturalistic manner to outward stimuli.

As to naturalism and rationalism one finds them written large over the pages of modern religious thought. Naturalism as a theory is superseded by evolution as a scientific postulate. There are no naturalists at present unless they are evolutionists. The same can he said of rationalism. Rationalism is the setting up of the mind of man as the only standard former, in antithesis to the revelation of God. The modern movement of liberalism in religion is an outcropping of the more ancient form of rationalism. The elemental facts are identical. Each is but the desire of man to test revelation by mind power, mental acumen, and the codes of man's machination.

Mysticism finds its modern expression in the tongues movement in that this belief seeks for an emotional expression which is unnatural. Mysticism in its ancient form was a reveling in mental and emotional ecstasy, a breaking of the contacts of consciousness with outward and overt stimulations, resulting in a mental revelry with its basis in things religious. This is likewise discovered in the tongues experience. The manifestations are due to a control of the stream of consciousness by the element of the unconscious mental reactions. It also finds its expression in the tendency of the present for many people to seek the guidance of God directly without any basis of finding His leadings and will as revealed in the Bible. A modern mystic may seem extremely religious, but with this he is liable to set up his own convictions, mental opinions, emotional desires, as the will of God.

Idealism as a religion is clothed in Christian Science, the Unity school of religion, and what is termed New Thought. Idealism is a form of pantheism. Pantheism views the natural world as being God; this pantheistic conception of the universe may be either naturalistic or idealistic, that is, it may conceive of the universe being matter or mind. The first case is naturalistic pantheism, the second is idealistic pantheism. Christian Science thinks of God as being all, and all being mind, and all being good.

It is thus seen that the outstanding theological postulates which have been classified as heterodox by Christendom of the centuries have found their expression in modern movements. The elemental tenets are identical, though in many cases the cloaks are diverse. Christian Science is pantheistic idealism, and can well be termed neo-pantheism. It is also Socinianism in that it denies firmly the deity of Christ, and hence can be labeled neo-Socinianism. The modern Keswick movement in that it denies that carnality can be eradicated allies itself with Antinomianism and can be labeled neo-Antinomianism. The modern movements of religious education, religious psychology, can likewise be termed neo-Antinomianism, for they also deny the existence of depravity in the original nature of man.

Every minister should be well acquainted with the historical development of theology and its erroneous aspects, so that when he is forced to meet their modern expressions he will be able to cope with them, understand their foundation facts, and their essential nature. The Church that is to prevail in face of modernism must be one that is well-grounded in historical theology. It is well that our popular literature gives expression to theological discussions of a practical nature so that even the laity will be informed. In knowledge there is safety, in theology there is an anchor for the Church that she cannot be shaken.

In the following articles we shall point out the present revival of these several erroneous theological postulates from the past ages. -- PITTSBURGH, PA.


April 1929

Chapter III

The Development of Christian Apologetics (Continued)

The former chapter left us at the close of the Polemical Period of Apologetics. During this age in the study of the Scriptures the first topic of interest was that of the Canon. Soon after the death of Origen we find that along with those books received unto the Canon during the last age, the Epistles of Peter, John, Jude and James were accepted. The Epistle to the Hebrews is included among the Pauline writings. Revelation is also thus received as canonical. By the middle of the fourth century the need of a fixed canon was felt strongly. In the East at the end of the fourth century the Canon had acquired definite hounds, and all the books now received in the Bible, with the exception of the Apocalypse, were viewed as canonical. The great writers of this age, such as Cyril of Jerusalem, Anthanasius, and Augustine, assert the sufficiency of the Scriptures to acquaint us with whatever is essential to faith and conduct. Fisher writes of the Church as being considered, "the ark of safety, within which alone salvation is possible" (History of Christian Doctrine, 123). A true knowledge of God was believed by this age to be attainable only by divine revelation, and especially through Christ. This did not deter the fathers from producing arguments for the existence of God which were derived from the light of nature.

The shifting emphasis from apologetics to polemics came about because most of the arguments against Christianity had been answered and nominally the world had become Christian in belief; but the rise of heresies within this nominal Christian world gave origin to the necessity of formulating the correct statements of dogma. Hence the rise of polemics took place. Numerous controversies and heresies existed at this time. The most important of these are:

1. The Trinitarian controversy. It was a discussion about the nature and essence of the Logos, who in Christ had become incarnate, and about His relation to the Father. Arius, from whom Arianism arose) taught that the Son had been created out of nothing by the will of the Father, in order that the world might be called into existence through Him. At the Council of Nice in 325 the correct doctrine as now held was inserted in the creed.

2. The Origenistic controversy. This centered about the teachings and doctrines of Origen, and could he considered one of a personal and not a doctrinal nature.

3. Controversies about the Person of Christ. In the discussions about the Trinity, the question concerning the eternal existence and the divine nature of Christ had been agitated; but now His historical manifestation as the incarnate Son of God, the connection between the two natures, the divine and the human, and the mutual relationship of these two became leading subjects of inquiry. For awhile the Church defended the absolute divinity of the Lord against Arius, but now it maintained the perfect humanity of Christ against Apollinaris, who denied this element. In the Nestorian controversy the Church was called upon to defend the unity of the person of Christ against the doctrines of the Antiochians, whose distinction practically resulted or amounted to the separation of these natures into two persons. In the Monophysite controversy the distinction between the two natures of the Lord was lost sight of in a desire to emphasize the unity of the same. In the Monothelete controversy the distinction between the two natures was admitted in theory, but was denied in fact, assuming the existence of only one will.

4. Controversies connected with Redemption. In the West even before the controversies concerning the Trinity and the Person of Christ had arisen discussions concerning redemption had started. These centered around the most fundamental doctrines of sin and divine grace. The Pelagians maintained that the power of the human will unaided by divine grace was sufficient for salvation; the semi-Pelagians thought that the cooperation of divine grace with human freedom resulted in salvation; while Augustine and his party insisted on the operation of divine grace alone as the efficacious agency in the work of salvation. Victory ultimately remained with the party of Augustine. In this connection it is well to hold in mind these discussions, and when the great contention between Calvinism and Arminianism arises one will see the reason for Calvinists accusing Arminians of holding doctrines which are related to Pelagianism. For a brief, yet scholarly summary of these discussions one can turn to Kurtz, Church History, pp. 186-214; Schaff in op. cit. in Vol. III, Ch. IX gives a most excellent discussion of these controversies.

III. Mediaeval Period. The third period of apologetics comprises the centuries from about A. D. 750 to 1517, or the time of the Reformation, Shedd writes of this age, "Of this period we may say that it was engaged chiefly in reducing the past results of theological investigation and controversy to a systematic form and a scientific unity ... Scotus Erigena, during the ninth century, shows signs of acute intellectual life, and by reason of his active and inquiring spirit becomes a striking object in that age of growing superstition and ignorance. Alcuin, the brightest ornament of the court of Charlemagne, and the soundest thinker between John of Damascus and Anselm, also throws a pure and serene ray into the darkness of the dark age. It was not until scholasticism appeared that we perceive in the Church the reappearance of that same deep reflection which in Augustine settled the principal questions in Anthropology, and that same subtle analysis which in Athanasius constructed the Nicene Symbol. For two centuries, extending from Anselm to Aquinas (1075-1275), we find the theologians of the Church collectively endeavoring to rationalize Christianity and construct a philosophy of religion, with an energy and intensity of thinking that is remarkable" (History Of Christian Doctrine, pp. 177,178).

The older attacks upon the Christian religion by both the Jews and pagans had passed away. Mohammedanism, which had now come into being, made some literary attacks upon the Church. Defenses were called for against skepticism and doubts which existed in the Church itself. In the matter the age is somewhat comparable to the present period of modern liberalism. Men like Amalrich of Bena, and David of Dinanto, in attempting to discover the true nature of Deity, and the relation between the Creator and the creation in reality put forth a theory of pantheism; on the other band such men as Anselm, Bernard and Aquinas continued the defense of the common faith much along the same line as the early Church had done.

1. Apologetics of Anselm, Aquinas, and Bernard. Anselm agrees in his view of the relation of faith to reason with Augustine. In his tracts, Monologium and Proslogion, he defends the supernatural element in Christianity with a metaphysical talent which is unexcelled. He insists that intrinsically Christianity is a rational faith. Aquinas takes something of the same general view, though his intellectual activity shows a greater tendency to speculation. He places Christian mysteries above but not against reason, in somewhat the same manner as did the Mystic Schoolmen. While Bernard is the greatest of the three. He wrote, "Science reposes upon reason; faith upon authority. Both, however, are in possession of a sure and valid truth; but faith possesses the truth in a close and involuted form, while science possesses it in an open and expanded one ... Science does not desire to contradict faith; but it desires to cognize with plainness what faith knows with certainty" (De Consideratione, Lib. V. Cap. iii). Anselm in Cur Deus Home (Why the God-Man?) made a matchless defense of the human person of Christ and of the doctrine of the vicarious atonement. Aquinas wrote a strong book against the Jews and the Mohammedans called De Veritate Fidei.

2. Apologetics of Abelard. Oh the other hand, Abelard thought that first the truth of Christianity appealed to the reason, and then was a matter of credence. With him intellectual comprehension was necessary for belief. His dictum was "Non credendum, nisi prius intellectum," or in plain language, "Do not believe unless you first know." While with Anselm it was "credo ut intelligame," or "Believe that you may know." In his Introduction to Theology, from which the above quotation is taken (ii, 3), he tried to solve anew the doctrine of the Trinity but the Council of Soissons in 1121 ordered his work burned. Though not an infidel, still many of his doctrines were unsound. He is the medieval father of present day liberalism and new theology.

Shedd notes tendencies growing out of this medieval period of apologetics. He writes, "The most serious defect in the Apologetics in this Mediaeval period sprang from the growing influence of traditional theology at the expense of inspiration. Even devout and spiritual theologians attributed too much authority to the opinions of the distinguished church fathers and to the decisions of councils, in comparison with the infallible authority of Scripture" (Ibid, 188).

3. Hagenbach's Analysis. Hagenbach, in his Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, translated into the English as History of Doctrines, affords a most excellent analysis of apologetics during this age.

a. As to the truth and divine origin of Christianity it left the methods employed by the Polemic Period for other methods of refuting Mohammedanism. But when skepticism began to appear there was demanded a more philosophical defense of Christianity. The arguments derived from miracles and prophecies were retained, since tradition had sanctioned them, although other writers saw that the religion of Christ possessed internal excellencies without miracles which would authenticate it.

b. With reference to the source of knowledge, the Bible still theoretically was regarded as the highest authority in matters of religion, yet, as Shedd noted, it was overshadowed by tradition, which was deemed of equal importance with the Scripture. The doctrines of the Bible were more and more mixed up with the traditions of men. Tradition, as indicating the knowledge of the fathers, nature, as revealing the record of God through a material form, and the Bible as the written revelation, were held of equal import in the statement of doctrine.

c. With reference to the Canon of the Bible, the Latin Church generally regarded the Apocrypha of the Old Testament as a part of it. The Paulicians in the East rejected it, and the writings of Peter.

d. The opinions which heretofore had been held by the Church with reference to the inspiration of the Bible continued to prevail. One writer, Agobard, said that the sacred penmen had not adhered to the rules of grammar; which called forth much opposition. The scholastic divines endeavored to define more exactly what the Church meant by inspiration. They believed explicitly in the divine inspiration of the Bible (See Aquinas, P.1. Qu. xii, art. 13).

e. As to the method of interpreting the Bible, a sound grammatico-historical method was hardly known during this period, because of the neglect of philological studies, and it was not until the end of the period that a new light began to dawn. One of two plans of interpretation were in vogue: either a slavish accordance with tradition and dictates of the Church or an allegorical manner. The rules of the Church endeavored to restrict the study of the Bible on the part of the people, while private individuals were anxious to have the people read it. Neander in Kieme Gelegenheitsschriften, p. 162, writes of the effort of the friars of common life in trying to spread biblical knowledge among the common people. (Hagenbach, op. cit. pp.451-470). This same opinion is found in Sheldon, History of Christian Doctrine, pp. 323-328.

IV. The Modern Period. This age in the development of Apologetics begins with the Protestant Reformation and closes with the present time. Several distinct tendencies are to be noted in the progress of the defenses of Christianity, as answering the arguments of the opponents of the supernatural origin of the faith of Christendom. Some writers divide this period into two eras, from 1517 to 1720, and then on until the present time. This is the procedure of Hagenbach and Sheldon. While others treat it as one general period, as is the case with Shedd. We shall follow the second method.

I. English Deism. The first tendency to be noted is that of English Deism, of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is seen that during the age of the Reformation proper not much progress was made in the defense of the Christian religion against atheists, etc., for Christendom was too much taken up with the new reformation, its leaders, theology, etc., to devote attention to this other phase. But after the Reformation had become a settled fact, and the theologies of Luther, as representing the Reformed Church, and Calvin as an exponent of Augustinianism, or predestination, and Arminius, the founder of Arminianism, who was accused of leaning toward Pelagianism, became well stated, then within the Church errors arose, and without the Church deists, French atheists, and German rationalists flourished. These called forth defenses by those who held firm to the old landmarks of Christendom.

The first advocates of deism were not outright atheists, though with reference to the Bible they were infidels. They believed in the existence of God, who had created the universe and after turning it over to the control of laws and secondary causes, forsook it. They denied that He had even the most casual interest in man, in the trend of morals, or in the progress of nations and the development of civilizations. Deists taught that natural religion, or that system of belief or faith which was revealed by a study of man, mind and nature, by the use of the human reason unaided by divine revelation, was sufficient. Such men as Herbert, Hobbes, Tindal, Bolinbroke and Newport are among the front ranks of the protagonists of deism. Their works culminated in the universal skepticism of Hume and Gibbon.

Intellectual deism is found in its highest form in the system of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, who may be regarded as the founder of English deism. After a survey of the religions of the world, he worked out a universal system of five points: There is a God; He is to be worshipped; piety and virtue are principles of worship; man should repent of sin; that the rewards of good and evil are partly received in this and partly in the life to come. The possibility of a revelation from God is denied. This deism was made more spiritual due to the Christianity in which it had its rise, than had its origin been under different influences.

A later form of deism had its origin with Hobbes, who stated, "We have no assurance of the certainty of the Scriptures, but by the authority of the Church, and this is resolved into the authority of the commonwealth." He asserted that the precepts of the Bible are not obligatory laws but only counsel and advice. He acknowledges the existence of God, but denies that we may know any more of Him than this existence.

Tindal wrote a book in which he argues against the idea and possibility of a revelation -- the earliest work of its kind, and written with more than ordinary thoroughness. He rejects all in the Bible which relates to man's sin and redemption. He terms the gospel only the republication of the laws of nature.

This skepticism reached its full growth in the system of Hume (1776). His is a system of universal doubt, and as a result the conclusions of the religion of nature as well as those of revelation are invalid.

English deism was answered by study men, who were trained in the literature of their day, and who were well able to meet the onslaughts of skepticism. Lardner has left us ten massive volumes of Works in which he defends the credibility of the New Testament, which today remains the source of such material for the modern apologist. This work is based upon the quotations of the early writers which substantiate the credibility of the New Testament. Richard Baxter wrote an apologetic treatise entitled, More Reasons for the Christian Religion and No Reason Against It. Thomas Halyburton wrote a work called Natural Religion Insufficient, and Revealed Necessary to Man's Happiness. This was in direct answer to Herbert. Henry Moore (1678) and Ralph Cudworth (1688) answered Hobbes, in tracts entitled Antidote Against Atheism, by the first named, and Intellectual System of the Universe, by the latter. Richard Bently as a preacher was the first to defend the religion of Christ in lectures; he preached upon The Folly and Unreasonableness of Atheism.

But the outstanding answer to deism of that age was Butler's Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed. This work has had a greater circulation than any other of its type, and today remains a classic in the field. Herein Butler says that the objections which are alleged by deists against the God of the Bible can be brought with equal force against the god of religion which is revealed by nature, and greater and more difficult objections are pointed out in the system of deism as a religion than can be brought against Christianity. Lardner's work, it must be noted in passing, deals more with the Canon of the New Testament than with any other item. His aim is to establish the credibility and authenticity as well as the historicity of the New Testament. Paley in his Evidences of Christianity formulated the famous "design argument" for the existence of God, which is so extensively used today in proving the existence of Deity.



Oct, 1929

Part Four -- Extraneous Influences





Chapter VI

The Influence of Pivotal Theologians Upon Dogma

In our study of dogma in its historical development certain factors must be noted. The crystallization of theology in symbols, or creeds, tended to affect future theological thinking, as has been outlined in the two previous chapters. Dogmatic positions once taken held on tenaciously and thus influenced coming dogmaticians. Not only is this true, but the writings and theories of certain theologians stand out as guiding and controlling landmarks in the progression of doctrine. With Athanasius we connect the dogma of the person of Christ. The anthropology of Augustine has remained the orthodox statement of Christendom. Anselm formulated the doctrine of the atonement. Since the day of Luther all evangelical creeds stressed "justification by faith." Calvin will be remembered as the formulator -- building upon the foundation of Augustine -- of Calvinism, the decrees of God. While Wesley will go down in dogmatic history as emphasizing the witness of the Spirit and the doctrine of Christian perfection. Let us then begin with Athanasius and trace the influence of these several theologians, whom we have called pivotal, upon the progressive development of doctrine.


In the discussions of the trinity and of the person of Christ, which are pivotal to the early theology of the Church, one name stands out supreme above all other -- that of Athanasius. He has well been termed "Pater orthodoxiae," "Father of orthodoxy." He is truly a Church father, and as one states the history of the church of his age was the history of his life and teachings. Schaff affirms, "Athanasius is the theological and ecclesiastical center ... about which the Nicene age revolves ... Athanasius contra mundum, et mundum contra Athanasium (Athanasius against the world, and the world against Athanasius), is a well-known sentiment which strikingly expresses his fearless independence and immovable fidelity to his convictions." (History, Vol. 3, p. 886f). Whenever the trinity is discussed and the person of Christ is subject of debate the influence of this thinker will he felt on the side of orthodoxy.

1. The facts of his life. Athanasius was born in Alexandria about A. D. 296, and died in Egypt A. D. 373. His thus was a long life of service for his Master. In his early years he was a close student of the classics, the Scriptures and the church fathers, and lived the life of an ascetic. In 325 he accompanied his bishop to the council of Nicae, where he at once distinguished himself by his zeal and ability in refuting the heresy of Arianism, and in vindicating the eternal deity of Christ. It was at this time that he incurred the hatred of this sect about which so many storms rose during his life. Three years later he became bishop of Alexandria, which position elevated him to the highest ecclesiastical dignity of the East. At once began the noted controversy against Arius and his party. As leader of this his name became equivalent to Nicene.

A small man in stature, still his influence us a writer and preacher is as wide and deep as the centuries. He lived for one purpose -- as Luther for justification by faith, and Calvin for the idea of the sovereign grace of God -- that he might vindicate the deity of Christ, which rightly is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Not only in the Eastern church, but also in the Western, he enjoyed an enviable position both as a writer and a theologian.

2. The Arian controversy. The early Church was divided concerning the nature of Christ, or the Logos. Some believed that He was truly the Son of God, coexistent with the Father, and of the same substance, while others made Him to be a creature and hence undivine. Chief among those who held this latter view was Arius. He affirmed (1) that there was one God, unbegotten, and the Son was represented as an emanation (prothole) from God, and not having the same nature (meros homoousion) ; (2) the Son had a beginning; (3) the Logos, though born with the sophia or wisdom of God, was created by the Father as the medium through which the world is to come into being; (4) the Logos is hence changeable or variable and not eternal. Passages from the Bible were cited to establish this view. Christ thus became a rational energy created by God. Athanasius threw himself unreservedly into this conflict in the realm of Christology and stated the dogma in such terms that evangelical Christendom cannot escape it.

3. The teachings of Athanasius concerning Christ. Backed by a staunch and genuine character, thoroughly grasping the conception of the unity of God, he taught men to recognize the true nature of the person of Christ and its importance. He denounced the doctrines of Arius as untrue and spurious. He taught that (1) the Scriptures affirm the existence of but one God. The nature, ousia, and the person, hupostasis, are one. There is no room left for a second God, as Seeberg states. (Hist. of Doctrine, V. I, 208). (2) He would not allow of a Father-Son, huiopator, nor of a sole-natured, monoosuios, God. Nor would he permit of "three hypostases separated from one another." (3) The clear distinction between the Father and the Son, as well as the unity, finds expression in the "oneness of essence, enotes tes hoysias." (4) The Logos assumed human flesh and became man, and was thus true God and true man, which union forms the basis for the salvation, soteria, of man.

The final victory at the Council of Nicae was that of the statement of Athanasius, that the Son is of the same essence, homoousian, as the Father, and not of a like essence, homoeousian. The Son was declared to be coequal with the Father, His creation was denied, and His eternal sonship was affirmed. The debate lasted after this about a half a century and at the Council of Constantinople in 381, the famous "filioque," "and the Son," was inserted in the Creed, making the generation of the Spirit to be from the Father and the Son, and not merely from the Father. Thus the true doctrine of the deity of Christ, His consubstantiality with the Father, the unity in the trinity, and the trinity in the unity of the Godhead was established.

4. Athanasius' influence on future doctrine of the person of Christ. In concluding this section it is well to note that the dogma of the person of Christ from that time on was fairly well fixed, and it has not been changed by any orthodox creed since then. The only times when it has been challenged have been when Arianism has reappeared under a new cloak, such as Socianianism or the more modern Unitarianism. This challenge has been taken up by present-day liberal theologians when they affirm that Christ is not truly God. But in so doing they ally themselves with Unitarianism, and deny the basic conceptions of orthodox Christendom. The creed was fixed, and has remained unchanged. The future of doctrinal history might have been far differently written had it not have been for Athanasius' staunch defense of the homoousian principle. This principle is basic not only to the creeds of unified Christianity before the schism between Eastern and Western Christianity, or Greek and Roman Catholicism, and until the Re formation; it also remains the same in the evangelical Protestant creeds since the day of Luther. In the Augsburg Confession, the Thirty-nine Articles, and all other creeds, this power of Athanasius is felt.


In the discussions which followed the formation of the Nicene Creed, the orthodox position concerning the deity of Christ was fairly well accepted as final. Attention was then turned to the nature of man, his original state, his ability or inability without or with grace to be saved. The Pelagians maintained the efficacy of unaided human liberty, the Semi-Pelagians the cooperation of divine grace with the human freedom, while Augustine and his party insisted on the absolute necessity of the operation of divine grace as alone efficacious in the work of salvation.

1. The life of Augustine. Augustine was born in 354 in North Africa. His early life was marked with debauchery until not far from Milan, Italy, he heard the voice of a child saying, "Take and read." He read from Romans 13:14 and turned to the Master. He was baptized on Easter Sunday, 387. His connections with a life of sin were broken, and in 391 he was chosen against his will as presbyter in the city of Hippo Regius. For thirty-eight years as the famous bishop of Hippo -- though a small city -- he ruled the thinking of the Church. Schaff writes of him, "Augustine, the man with upturned eye, with pen in the left hand, and a burning heart in the right, is a philosophical and theological genius of the first order, towering like a pyramid above his age and looking down commandingly upon succeeding centuries ... He was a Christian philosopher and a philosophical theologian to the full" (History, V. 3, p. 997). Among his numerous writings his Confession and City of God have through the centuries remained unequaled as devotional literature. For a good discussion of his writings see Schaff, op. cit., V. 3, pp. 1005ff.

2. The Pelagian Controversy. Before the time of Augustine the anthropology of the Church was crude. It was generally agreed that man had fallen, that this sin was a curse, that he was morally accountable; but as to the extent and the nature of this corruption and of the relation of human freedom to divine grace in the work of regeneration, Pelagius taught: (1) Adam was created mortal and would have died, even had he not sinned. (2) Adam's fall injured himself alone, not the human race. (3) Children come into the world in the same condition in which Adam was before the fall. (4) The human race neither dies in consequence of Adam's transgression, nor rises again in consequence of Christ's resurrection. (5) Unbaptized children as well as others are saved. (6) The law as well as the gospel leads to the kingdom of heaven. (7) There were sinless men even before the time of Christ.

Pelagius' system revolves around the human state of man in that man was believed to have been entirely able to seek and find salvation without the aid of divine grace. The consequences of the fall of Adam were necessarily limited to Adam alone and not to his posterity. There is thus no native depravity. "Pelaganism is a fundamental anthropological heresy, denying man's "ened" of redemption," avers Schaff. (Op. cit, V. 3, p. 815.) It is well to note in passing that in the modern discussion of religious education this heresy is held in that it is asserted that children can be taught religion, without the necessity of being converted.

3. Augustine's answer to Pelagius. Into the controversy of stating the true orthodox position as to anthropology Augustine threw himself with his characteristic zeal and ability. At every turn he opposed Pelagius and his teachings. He affirmed: (1) That the human will, while free, was still unable by itself to achieve the status for one of a child of God. Grace divine was absolutely essential. (2) That the primitive state of man, being one of innocence, still demanded the grace of God to sustain it. (3) That the fall not only affected Adam, but his posterity, and that all come under the condemnation or influence of depravity, the fountain source of which was the fall of Adam. This fall was complete in its extent, affecting the entire moral nature. (4) That original sin is a native bent of the soul toward evil, with which all posterity of Adam, save Christ, come into the world. The entire race, through the fall, had become a "massa perditinois," a lost race. His arguments for original sin and hereditary guilt were founded upon the Bible. (5) That redeeming grace is necessary to Christian life, and is unmerited. Gratia, grace, is freely given, gratuita, gratis data. It is irresistible in its effect (this tenet of Augustine laid the basis for the future dogma of Calvinism).

4. Augustine and the future anthropology of the Church. The anthropology of the Church has remained essentially Augustianian. No man has exerted a greater influence over future dogma than he. In respect to the doctrines of sin and grace Augustine is the forerunner of the Reformation. The Reformers were led through his writings to a deeper understanding of the theology of Paul. In the middle ages even those who would reform the Church such as Huss, Wyclif, etc., turned to the famous bishop of Hippo as their light. "No church teacher," writes Schaff, "did so much to mold Luther and Calvin; none furnished them so powerful weapons against the dominant Pelagianism and formalism; none is so often quoted by them with esteem and love" (Op. cit. V. 3, p. 1025f.)

In our analysis of the teachings of Augustine we have emphasized but one dogma, for it was he who first gave to the Church a clear statement of the nature of man and the need of redeeming grace. We can say to him, as to Athanasius and his Christology, that no creed has since been written -- today viewed as orthodox -- which is not founded upon the anthropology of Augustine, or which does not include it. He alone molded our anthropological thinking, so that at once all Semi-pelagian theories are excluded from our evangelical theology. Pelagianism is the anthropology of Socinianism and Unitarianism, as Arianism is its Christology. The orthodox position with reference to the modern religious education movement, which denies depravity and the necessity of regeneration as a supernatural act, is essentially Pelagian, and thus its anthropology must come under the ban of evangelical theology.


Until the time of Anselm (b.1033 and d. 1109) there was no clear-cut statement of the nature of the atonement. Previous theologians had been taken up with the dogma of the trinity, the person of Christ, as is illustrated by the noble work of Athanasius, and of the nature of man, his sin, and of redeeming grace, as is shown by the writings of Augustine. When orthodoxy had formulated its theories on these subjects, it remained for someone to set forth the nature of the atonement as a philosophical theory based upon the biblical teachings. This Anselm did in no uncertain tones in his memorable "Cur deus homo? (Why the God-man?). Pope writes, "Anselm, in the later part of the eleventh century, gave an entirely new direction to ecclesiastical thought on this great question: a direction which has been permanent." (Compendium of Christian Theology, V.2, p.304.)

1. Anselm's doctrine of the atonement. After ten centuries of thought upon soteriology, or the doctrines of salvation and redemption, it was left for this writer to open the scholastic age with his famous theory of satisfaction. To this there was no dawning light, no previous forerunner, and his view is decidedly in advance of the best Patristic thought on soteriology, and remains the thought of the Reformers on the subject. He attempted to present the dogma in a harmonious and consistent manner. On rational grounds he sought to prove the necessity of the incarnation and redemption, although God's omnipotence stood in no need of such. He knew nothing of the theories which base the atonement upon any claims the devil may have on humanity.

(1) Basic to his thought is the idea that man can attain unto salvation only through the forgiveness of sins. (2) Sin consists in the creature withholding honor due to God. "He does not render to God the honor due unto Him" (i, II). (3) Man thus violates the obligations laid upon him as a rational being. (4) The nonpunishment of sins unatoned for would bring disorder into the kingdom of God, "but it is not proper that God should overlook anything disorderly in His kingdom" (i, 12). (5) But this divine order is preserved by righteousness. (6) "It is therefore necessary, either that the honor withheld he rendered, or that punishment follow" (1, 13). (7) It is necessary that either punishment or satisfaction follow every sin. (8) God chose the way of satisfaction. (9) But this satisfaction must be proper, since every small sin alone details the necessity of an infinite sacrifice. (10) Since man dishonored God by submitting to the devil then man most render this satisfaction to God by the conquest of the devil. (11) Since this satisfaction is so great that man cannot render it, then only God can render the demanded satisfaction. (12) But a man must render it, one who is of the same race, connected with humanity. (13) The God-man hence must render this satisfaction unto God. This requires the free surrender of the infinitely precious life of the God-man. (14) Thus the incarnation and sufferings of the God-man are necessary to render proper satisfaction unto the divine honor. He concludes, "Thus the sins of mankind are remitted" (ib). "And thus the doctrine of the Scripture is proved by reason alone, solo ratione" (ii. 23).

This argument is seen to be based upon the legal maxim, which Seeberg affirms to be the Germanic, instead of the Roman legal idea, of satisfaction or punishment, "poena aut satisfactio." Though defects can be noted in the theory, in that the basis is purely legalistic, making the death of Christ to be a juristic conception, the sufferings of Christ are not sufficiently related to His life, and the relation between the benefits derived from this suffering of Christ and humanity is not made clear, still it remains the foundation of the theology of the atonement for the past ten centuries. The fundamental position of the "Cur Deus Homo" is the metaphysical necessity of the atonement in order for the remission of sins. It is thus the attribute of justice, and not mercy, which insists upon legal satisfaction. A default may be found in this, nevertheless the elemental tenets of the governmental theory -- which refers to Adam as the head of the race through whom depravity came to man, and Christ the head of the race in redeeming humanity from the guilt and curse of sin -- are to be found in this legal theory of satisfaction.

As noted above, Anselm was absolutely clear in denying the claims of Satan upon mankind, thus necessitating the atonement, and in asserting the claims of justice as requiring an atonement. In this his theory becomes scientific and is "defensible at the bar of first principles," as Shedd states (Hist. of Chris. Doctrine, V. I, p. 283.) The theory is colored by the limitations of the Roman church, in which it was produced; "but in all its great outlines it has maintained itself and will continue to do so, as expressing the deepest thought of the Christian Church respecting the Savior's atoning work" (Stearns, Present Day Theology, p. 384.)

The Reformation brought out another theory called "penal substitution," which shall be treated at length in our study of the atonement. This is ofttimes confused with Anselmic doctrine, but wrongly so. There are in this dogma two alternatives given, either the sinner must suffer, or a substitute must be punished. God chose the latter alternative, and heaped upon the Son all the punishment of the sinner. Calvin brings out this theory in his Institutes, Bk. II, Ch. 16. On the other hand the Arminians regard Christ's death as a vicarious sacrifice rather than as a substituted punishment. He freely died that the sinner might thereby be converted. Pope in discussing Anselm's theory of the atonement makes this statement, "There are flaws in the Anselmic doctrine ... But nothing can dim the value of Anselm's service to Christian theology, as having established the immanent necessity in the divine nature of an atonement for the infinite evil and offense of sin" (Com. of Chris.Theo. V. 2. p. 305.)

2. Anselm's influence on future soteriology. It seems needless to discuss the influence of Anselm on the future soteriology of the Church at any further length. One word however is necessary. However many changes might have been made in the final working out of the theory, whether those of "the penal substitution," or of "the governmental theory," or of "the vicarious sacrifice," in all the orthodox views of the nature of the atonement this one remains basic. It is only when the "moral influence theory" (to be discussed in our more detailed study of the development of this doctrine) arose that the basic idea of Anselm is cast aside. And this could only be true: for the moral influence theory is that of Socinian-Unitarianism, with its underlying Pelagian anthropology and its Arian Christology. On the other hand, evangelical Christendom holds the Anselmic soteriology, the Augustinian anthropology and the Athanasian Christology or trinitarianism.