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Strange ­yet from the date of the book of the Celestial Hierarchies of the pretended Dionysius the Areopagite to that of its translation by Joannes Scotus Erigena, the contemporary of Alfred, and from Scotus to the Rev. John Oxlee in 1815, not unfrequent ­delusion of mistaking Pantheism, disguised in a fancy dress of pious phrases, for a more spiritual and philosophic form of Christian Faith!  Nay, stranger still: ­to imagine with Scotus and Mr. Oxlee that in a scheme which more directly than even the grosser species of Atheism, precludes all moral responsibility and subverts all essential difference of right and wrong, they have found the means of proving and explaining, “the Christian doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation,” that is, the great and only sufficient antidotes of the right faith against this insidious poison.  For Pantheism ­trick it up as you will ­is but a painted Atheism.  A mask of perverted Scriptures may hide its ugly face, but cannot change a single feature.

Introduction, .

In the infancy of the Christian Church, and immediately after the general dispersion which necessarily followed the sacking of Jerusalem and Bither, the Greek and Latin Fathers had the fairest opportunity of disputing with the Jews, and of evincing the truth of the Gospel dispensation; but unfortunately for the success of so noble a design, they were totally ignorant of the Hebrew Scriptures, and so wanted in every argument that stamp of authority, which was equally necessary to sanction the principles of Christianity, and to command the respect of their Jewish antagonists.  For the confirmation of this remark I may appeal to the Fathers themselves, but especially to Barnabas, Justin, and Irenaeus, who in their several attempts at Hebrew learning betray such portentous signs of ignorance and stupidity, that we are covered with shame at the sight of their criticisms.

Mr. Oxlee would be delighted in reading Jacob Rhenferd’s Disquisition on the Ebionites and other supposed heretics among the Jewish Christians.  And I cannot help thinking that Rhenferd, who has so ably anticipated Mr. Oxlee on this point, and in Jortin’s best manner displayed the gross ignorance of the Gentile Fathers in all matters relating to Hebrew learning, and the ludicrous yet mischievous results thereof, has formed a juster though very much lower opinion of these Fathers, with a few exceptions, than Mr. Oxlee.  I confess that till the light of the twofoldness of the Christian Church dawned on my mind, the study of the history and literature of the Church during the first three or four centuries infected me with a spirit of doubt and disgust which required a frequent recurrence to the writings of John and Paul to preserve me whole in the Faith.

Prop.  I. ch. i. .

The truth of the doctrine is vehemently insisted on, in a variety of places, by the great R. Moses ben Maimón; who founds upon it the unity of the Godhead, and ranks it among the fundamental articles of the Jewish religion.  Thus in his celebrated Letter to the Jews of Marseilles he observes, &c.

But what is obtained by quotations from Maimonides more than from Alexander Hales, or any other Schoolman of the same age?  The metaphysics of the learned Jew are derived from the same source, namely, Aristotle; and his object was the same, as that of the Christian Schoolmen, namely, to systematize the religion he professed on the form and in the principles of the Aristotelian philosophy.

By the by, it is a serious defect in Mr. Oxlee’s work, that he does not give the age of the writers whom he cites.  He cannot have expected all his readers to be as learned as himself.

Ib. ch. iii. .

Mr. Oxlee seems too much inclined to identify the Rabbinical interpretations of Scripture texts with their true sense; when in reality the Rabbis themselves not seldom used those interpretations as a convenient and popular mode of conveying their own philosophic opinions.  Neither have I been able to admire the logic so general among the divines of both Churches, according to which if one, two, or perhaps three sentences in any one of the Canonical books appear to declare a given doctrine, all assertions of a different character must have been meant to be taken metaphorically.

Ib. -7.

The Prophet Isaiah, too, clearly inculcates the spirituality of the Godhead in the following declaration:  ’But Egypt is man, and not God:  and their horses flesh, and not spirit’. (c. xxx.) .  In the former member the Prophet declares that Egypt was man, and not God; and then in terms of strict opposition enforces the sentiment by adding, that their cavalry was flesh, and not spirit; which is just as if he had said:  ’But Egypt, which has horses in war, is only a man, that is, flesh, and not God, who is spirit’.

Assuredly this is a false interpretation, and utterly unpoetical.  It is even doubtful whether [Hebrew:  unable to transliterate. txt Ed.] (’ruach’) in this place means ‘spirit’ in contradistinction to ‘matter’ at all, and not rather air or wind.  At all events, the poetic decorum, the proportion, and the antithetic parallelism, demand a somewhat as much below God, as the horse is below man.  The opposition of ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ in the Gospel of St. John, who thought in Hebrew, though he wrote in Greek, favours our common version, ­’flesh and not spirit’:  but the place in which this passage stands, namely, in one of the first forty chapters of Isaiah, and therefore written long before the Captivity, together with the majestic simplicity characteristic of Isaiah’s name gives perhaps a greater probability to the other:  ’Egypt is man, and not God; and her horses flesh, and not wind’.  If Mr. Oxlee renders the fourth verse of Psalm civ. ­’He maketh spirits his messengers’, (for our version ­’He maketh his angels spirits’ ­is without a violent inversion senseless), this is a case in point for the use of the word, ‘spirits’, in the sense of incorporeal beings. (Mr. Oxlee will hardly, I apprehend, attribute the opinion of some later Rabbis, that God alone and exclusively is a Spirit, to the Sacred Writers, easy as it would be to quote a score of texts in proof of the contrary.) I, however, cannot doubt that the true rendering of the above-mentioned verse in the Psalms is; ­’He maketh the winds his angels or messengers, and the lightnings his ministrant servants’.

As to Mr. Oxlee’s ‘abstract intelligences,’ I cannot but think ‘abstract’ for ‘pure,’ and even pure intelligences for incorporeal, a lax use of terms.  With regard to the point in question, the truth seems to be this.  The ancient Hebrews certainly distinguished the principle or ground of life, understanding, and will from ponderable, visible, matter.  The former they considered and called ‘spirit’, and believed it to be an emission from the Almighty Father of Spirits:  the latter they called ‘body’; and in this sense they doubtless believed in the existence of incorporeal beings.  But that they had any notion of immaterial beings in the sense of Des Cartes, is contrary to all we know of them, and of every other people in the same degree of cultivation.  Air, fire, light, express the degrees of ascending refinement.  In the infancy of thought the life, soul, mind, are supposed to be air ­’anima, animus’, that is, [Greek:  anemos], spiritus, [Greek:  pneuma].  In the childhood, they are fire, ‘mens ignea, ignicula’, and God himself [Greek:  pur noeron, pur aeizoon].  Lastly, in the youth of thought, they are refined into light; and that light is capable of subsisting in a latent state, the experience of the stricken flint, of lightning from the clouds, and the like, served to prove, or at least, it supplied a popular answer to the objection; ­“If the soul be light, why is it not visible?” That the purest light is invisible to our gross sense, and that visible light is a compound of light and shadow, were answers of a later and more refined period.  Observe, however, that the Hebrew Legislator precluded all unfit applications of the materializing fancy by forbidding the people to ‘imagine’ at all concerning God.  For the ear alone, to the exclusion of all other bodily sense, was he to be designated, that is, by the Name.  All else was for the mind ­by power, truth, wisdom, holiness, mercy.

Prop.  II. ch. ii. .

I fear I must surrender my hope that Mr. Oxlee was an exception to the rule, that the study of Rabbinical literature either finds a man ‘whimmy’, or makes him so.  If neither the demands of poetic taste, nor the peculiar character of oracles, were of avail, yet morality and piety might seem enough to convince any one that this vision of Micaiah, (2 ‘Chron’. c. xvii, &c.) was the poetic form, the veil, of the Prophet’s meaning.  And a most sublime meaning it was.  Mr. Oxlee should recollect that the forms and personages of visions are all and always symbolical.

Ib. pp. 39-40.

It will not avail us much, however, to have established their incorporeity or spirituality, if what R. Moses affirms be true .  This impious paradox .  Swayed, however, by the authority of so great a man, even R. David Kimchi has dilapsed into the same error, &c.

To what purpose then are the crude metaphysics of these later Rabbis brought forward, differing as they do in no other respect from the theological ‘dicta’ of the Schoolmen, but that they are written in a sort of Hebrew.  I am far from denying that an interpreter of the Scriptures may derive important aids from the Jewish commentators:  Aben Ezra, (about 1150) especially, was a truly great man.  But of this I am certain, that he only will be benefited who can look down upon their works, whilst studying them; ­that is, he must thoroughly understand their weaknesses, superstitions, and rabid appetite for the marvellous and the monstrous; and then read them as an enlightened chemist of the present day would read the writings of the old alchemists, or as a Linnaeus might peruse the works of Pliny and Aldrovandus.  If he can do this, well; ­if not, he will line his skull with cobwebs.

Ib. pp. 40, 41.

But how, I would ask, is this position to be defended?  Surely not by contradicting almost every part of the inspired volumes, in which such frequent mention occurs of different and distinct angels appearing to the Patriarchs and Prophets, sometimes in groups, and sometimes in limited numbers .  It is, indeed, so wholly repugnant to the general tenor of the Sacred Writings, and so abhorrent from the piety of both Jew and Christian, that the learned author himself, either forgetting what he had before advanced, or else postponing his philosophy to his religion, has absolutely maintained the contrary in his explication of the Cherubim, &c.

I am so far from agreeing with Mr. Oxlee on these points, that I not only doubt whether before the Captivity any fair proof of the existence of Angels, in the present sense, can be produced from the inspired Scriptures, ­but think also that a strong argument for the divinity of Christ, and for his presence to the Patriarchs and under the Law, rests on the contrary, namely, that the Seraphim were images no less symbolical than the Cherubim.  Surely it is not presuming too much of a Clergyman of the Church of England to expect that he would measure the importance of a theological tenet by its bearings on our moral and spiritual duties, by its practical tendencies.  What is it to us whether Angels are the spirits of just men made perfect, or a distinct class of moral and rational creatures?  Augustine has well and wisely observed that reason recognizes only three essential kinds; ­God, man, beast.  Try as long as you will, you can never make an Angel anything but a man with wings on his shoulders.

Ib. ch.  III. .

But this deficiency in the Mosaic account of the creation is amply supplied by early tradition, which inculcates not only that the angels were created, but that they were created, either on the second day, according to R. Jochanan, or on the fifth, according to R. Chanania.

Inspired Scripture amply supplied by the Talmudic and Rabbinical traditions! ­This from a Clergyman of the Church of England!

I am, I confess, greatly disappointed.  I had expected, I scarce know why, to have had some light thrown on the existence of the Cabala in its present form, from Ezekiel to Paul and John.  But Mr. Oxlee takes it as he finds it, and gravely ascribes this patch-work of corrupt Platonism or Plotinism, with Chaldean, Persian, and Judaic fables and fancies, to the Jewish Doctors, as an original, profound, and pious philosophy in its fountain-head!  The indispensable requisite not only to a profitable but even to a safe study of the Cabala is a familiar knowledge of the docimastic philosophy, that is, a philosophy, which has for its object the trial and testing of the weights and measures themselves, the first principles, definitions, postulates, axioms of logic and metaphysics.  But this is in no other way possible but by our enumeration of the mental faculties, and an investigation of the constitution, function, limits, and applicability ‘ad quas res’, of each.  The application to this subject of the rules and forms of the understanding, or discursive logic, or even of the intuitions of the reason itself, if reason be assumed as the first and highest, has Pantheism for its necessary result.  But this the Cabalists did:  and consequently the Cabalistic theosophy is Pantheistic, and Pantheism, in whatever drapery of pious phrases disguised, is (where it forms the whole of a system) Atheism, and precludes moral responsibility, and the essential difference of right and wrong.  One of the two contra-distinctions of the Hebrew Revelation is the doctrine of positive creation.  This, if not the only, is the easiest and surest criterion between the idea of God and the notion of a ‘mens agitans molem’.  But this the Cabalists evaded by their double meaning of the term, ‘nothing’, namely as nought = 0, and as no ‘thing’; and by their use of the term, as designating God.  Thus in words and to the ear they taught that the world was made out of nothing; but in fact they meant and inculcated, that the world was God himself expanded.  It is not, therefore, half a dozen passages respecting the first three ’proprietates’ in the Sephiroth, that will lead a wise man to expect the true doctrine of the Trinity in the Cabalistic scheme:  for he knows that the scholastic value, the theological necessity, of this doctrine consists in its exhibiting an idea of God, which rescues our faith from both extremes, Cabalo-Pantheism, and Anthropomorphism.  It is, I say, to prevent the necessity of the Cabalistic inferences that the full and distinct developement of the doctrine of the Trinity becomes necessary in every scheme of dogmatic theology.  If the first three ‘proprietates’ are God, so are the next seven, and so are all ten.  God according to the Cabalists is all in each and one in all.  I do not say that there is not a great deal of truth in this; but I say that it is not, as the Cabalists represent it, the whole truth.  Spinoza himself describes his own philosophy as in substance the same with that of the ancient Hebrew Doctors, the Cabalists ­only unswathed from the Biblical dress.

Ib. .

Similar to this is the declaration of R. Moses ben Maimón.  “For that influence, which flows from the Deity to the actual production of abstract intelligences flows also from the intelligences to their production from each other in succession,” &c.

How much trouble would Mr. Oxlee have saved himself, had he in sober earnest asked his own mind, what he meant by emanation; and whether he could attach any intelligible meaning to the term at all as applied to spirit.

Ib. .

Thus having, by variety of proofs, demonstrated the fecundity of the Godhead, in that all spiritualities, of whatever gradation, have originated essentially and substantially from it, like streams from their fountain; I avail myself of this as another sound argument, that in the sameness of the divine essence subsists a plurality of Persons.

A plurality with a vengeance!  Why, this is the very scoff of a late Unitarian writer, ­only that he inverts the order.  Mr. Oxlee proves ten trillions of trillions in the Deity, in order to deduce ‘a fortiori’ the rationality of three:  the Unitarian from the Three pretends to deduce the equal rationality of as many thousands.

Ib. .

So, if without detriment to piety great things may be compared with small, I would contend, that every intelligency, descending by way of emanation or impartition from the Godhead, must needs be a personality of that Godhead, from which it has descended, only so vastly unequal to it in personal perfection, that it can form no part of its proper existency.

Is not this to all intents and purposes ascribing partibility to God?  Indeed it is the necessary consequence of the emanation scheme? ­Unequal! ­Aye, various ‘wicked’ personalities of the Godhead? ­How does this rhyme? ­Even as a metaphor, emanation is an ill-chosen term; for it applies only to fluids.  ‘Ramenta’, unravellings, threads, would be more germane.