Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume IV/Introductory Notice

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Introductory Notice.


[a.d. 200–250.]  This fourth volume of our series is an exceptional one.  It presents, under one cover, specimens of two of the noblest of the Christian Fathers; both of them exceptionally great in their influence upon the ages; both of them justly censurable for pitiable faults; each of them, in spite of such failings, endeared to the heart of Christendom by their great services to the Church; both of them geographically of Africa, but the one essentially Greek and the other a Latin; the one a builder upon the great Clementine foundations, the other himself a founder, the brilliant pioneer of Latin Christianity.  The contrasts and the concurrences of such minds, and in them of the Alexandrian and Carthaginian schools, are most suggestive, and should be edifying.

The works of both, as here given, are fractional.  Tertullian overflows into this volume, after filling one before; the vast proportions of Origen’s labours forced the Edinburgh publishers to give specimens only.

Minucius Felix and Commodian are thrown in as a sort of appendix to Tertullian, and illustrate the school and the Church of the same country.  The Italian type does not yet appear.  Latin Christianity is essentially North-African, and is destined to continue such, conspicuously, till it has culminated in the genius of Augustine.  From the first, the Orientals speculate concerning God; the Westerns deal with man.  Both schools “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.”  And, once for all, it may be said, that if their language necessarily lacks the precision of technical theology, and enables those who have little sympathy with them to set them one against another on some points, and so to impair their value as witnesses, it is quite as easy, and far more just, to show the harmony of their ideas, even when they differ in their forms of speech.  This has been triumphantly done by Bull, just as the same writer harmonizes St. James and St. Paul, working down to their common base in the Rock of Ages.  The test of Ante-Nicene unity is the Nicene Symbol, in which the primitive writings find their ultimate expression.  That Clement and Tertullian alike would have recognized as the faith; for the earlier Fathers were, in fact, its authors.  The Nicene Fathers were compilers only, and professed only to embody in the Symbol what their predecessors had established and maintained.

Let it be borne in mind that there is only one Œcumenical Symbol.  The Creed called the Apostles’ is unknown to the East save as an orthodox confession of their Western brethren.  The “Athanasian Creed” is only a Western hymn, like the Te Deum, and has no œcumenical warrant as a symbol, though it embodies the common doctrine.  The Filioque, wherever it appears, is apocryphal, and has no œcumenical force; while it is heretical (in Catholic theology) if it be held in a sense which destroys the One Source of divinity in the Father, its fons et origo.  Surely, it is a noble exercise of mind and heart to see, in the splendid result of the Ante-Nicene conflicts with error, and in the enduring truth and perennial freshness of the Nicene Creed, the fulfilment of the promise of the Great Head of the Church, that the Spirit should abide with them for ever, and guide them into all truth.

The editor-in-chief, who has been forced to labour unassisted in the preceding volumes, has been so happy as to find a valued collaborator in editing the works of Origen, who has also relieved him of the task of proof-reading almost entirely throughout this volume, excepting on his own pages of prefaces or annotations.  In spite of the fact that a necessity for despatch requires the printing to be done from single proofs, it is believed that this volume excels its predecessors in typographical accuracy,—a merit largely due to the eminent skill of the Boston press from which it proceeds, but primarily to the pains of the Rev. Dr. Spencer, an expert in such operations.

For the favour and generous spirit with which his Christian brethren have welcomed and encouraged this undertaking, the editor is grateful to them, and to the common Lord and Master of us all.

October, 1885.