« Prev Notes on Ezekiel 13 Next »

Dissertation Twelfth.


Ezekiel 13:1

The very existence of such a chapter as this suggests some instructive reflections. It may first remind us of the great moral difference between the position of the Jew and our own. The existence of prophets implies the corresponding possession of miraculous witness. A new prophet was a new herald of a fresh truth; and before he could claim attention he was called upon to show his new credentials. The false prophets had in reality no such proofs that they were sent, of God, and yet by speaking smooth things they succeeded in deluding the people. If surprised at the possibility of such complete success, we may be reminded of similar instances in the practice of medicine in our own day among the uneducated. How blindly they rush to any clever impostor who settles among them with no better credentials than his ready skin and his audacious pretensions. The more unenlightened men are the more they catch at any prophet who asserts roundly and audaciously his mission from God. Now the Jew was called upon not to inquire first into the doctrine taught, but into “the sign” worked by the teacher — his first inquiry was to be not what God had revealed, but whom he has commissioned to teach it. Our position is rather the reverse. St. Paul assures us, that if an angel from heaven were to teach any other gospel than that taught by him we are to reject it. We, then, the readers of the Old Testament prophecies, are not to find in them a revelation of the Gospel, but, pointing to the coming Author of the Gospel. “Search the Scriptures,” but for what? “they testify of Me.” Types are fulfilled in the great Antitype — shadows become substance, and dimness splendor. This chapter of Ezekiel makes the teacher and his authority the subject of questioning, not the matter of his instructions. His coming in his own name is his first and all absorbing sin. However smooth his after communications, this is the great test of his unholy imposture. The Reformers, in the earnestness of their zeal, often append such chapters as these directly to themselves and their enemies. This led them to deal forth the wrath of God with too indiscriminating a name, and has given rise to the assertion that their system was a compound of “Moses and the Inquisition.” 368368     See Spectator: January 19, 1850. Review of T. H. Dyer’s “Life of John Calvin.” CEcolampadius, for instance, designates the false teachers of his day, “pinlauti, indocti, stulti, somniatores, caeci, vuloes dolosae, rapaces, in desertis et it neglectis locis agentes, timidi, et canes muti.” 369369     See Com. in Ezekiel 13:5. Whenever there is a strict parallel between true and false teachers in our own times, such language may be justifiable, but where the right of private judgment is so largely exercised by ourselves, it is but consistent to allow others an equally extensive sphere for its operation. Contending earnestly for the faith and the truth is possible, without the accumulation of strong epithets on the heads of others.


Ezekiel 13

Our Commentator, in various passages throughout this Prophet, finds it necessary to introduce the principle of accommodation. And as this necessity has been so largely insisted on by succeeding interpreters, we may well attempt to discover the true method of applying so elastic a principle. For instance, in this thirteenth chapter, on Ezekiel 13:9, he says — “Ezekiel here accommodates his language to the common usage of mankind,” attemperat sermonera; and also, “pro modulo et ruditate roentis nostrae;” on Ezekiel 13:16, he asserts that false prophets are so called “improprie,” not implying any want of propriety in using the name; but showing that the name only is intended, and that the reality is not asserted. The formidable list. of German writers on this important point, collected by Wegscheider in his Institutiones Theologicae, page 99, Hal. 1826, shows it to be worthy of our attentive notice; for when once we permit ourselves to resolve everything into “dictio gnomica et parabolica,” we may refine away the force and meaning of the prophecies altogether. While we confine ourselves to the topic immediately before us, a few general suggestions may be here thrown out. 1. In judging of the correctness of Calvin’s language, we should remember the peculiar intellectual tendencies of the Reformers, in consequence of their religious antagonism to the prevailing doctrines of their day. They saw all around them the grosset superstitions; they lived among a people who believed in a real and permanent moral efficacy, proceeding from sacred rites and ceremonies. They naturally supposed an analogy to exist between the false teachers of Rome then rampant, and of Israel once beloved. The majority of the divines of the day were in all their habits of thought and reasoning — realists; that is, they treated abstract religious ideas as if they were undoubted realities. “Grace,” for instance, must be something infused, and must be received only through one holy rite, and communicated fresh and fresh, in union with the elements of another. The schoolmen, who taught that our nature was actually stained and polluted by the propagation of original infection, held also that the laver of regeneration actually washed away this original depravity: if, in after life, fresh pollution was incurred, then through penance and the eucharist, fresh grace was transfused by actual and corporal union with the real body and blood of Christ. The language of Dr. M’Hale in the present day states the peculiarity of a sacrament to be, that it impresses an indelible character. 370370     The Evidences and Doctrines of the Catholic Church, page 402. Chateaubriand speaks of those “who receive their God” at the altar, “while each incorporates with his own flesh and blood the flesh and blood of his God.” 371371     Genie du Christianisme.

This is Realism run to seed’ and against all this the Nominalist contended, not by denying the spiritual realities, but by looking for them in the right places. In the fourteenth century the University of Paris was famous for its learning, its resources, and influence over the mind of Europe. The majority in power and rank were Realists. At length William Occam, an English friar, assailed their philosophy, and damaged their religious influence. Himself a disciple of the great Scotus Erigena, he gathered around him a band of devoted adherents, and became in philosophy what Luther and Calvin afterwards were in religion. He succeeded sufficiently to attract the notice of the reigning pope, John 22nd. who was sharp-sighted enough to see that if Nominalism spread Romanism must perish. Hence by his command in 1339, the University of Paris publicly condemned and denounced the philosophy of Occam. 372372     Boulay Hist. Acad. Par., volume 4 page 257; and volume 5 page 708. As usual, when the man is denounced, the principles take root and flourish. In another age, Luther and Melancthon own him as their master and their guide. The former calls him “Carus maister meus;” the latter “Deliciae quondam nostrae.” 373373     See Admon. Ad Eccl. ap. Coelest., page 261; et Orat. pro M. Luth. Opera, volume 2 page 58. The next century finds the disputes at Paris as fierce as ever. The famous Gerson and his persevering disciples caused their enemies to respect their mental sway, till Rome again interfered. In 1743, the Bishop of Avrancis felt the philosophy of the schools, on which the false doctrines of Rome were built: in danger, and then he persuaded Louis 11th, the ruling monarch of France, to order their writings to be seized and their persons imprisoned. But as time passed on, the king relented, for about eight years afterwards he revoked his edict, and restored the party to their former philosophical position. The Reformers lived amidst this perversion of ideas on religious subjects, and their writings show them to be unconsciously tinged with the sentiments of the Realists. The schoolmen, for instance, still argued for a corporeal propagation of what was termed fomes or concupiscentia, calling it a qualitas corporis, derived either from contagione pomi, or afflatu serpentis 374374     See Apol. Confess. ap. Coelest., page 2, and Scotus, lib. 2. destined. 32. While the Lutherans took one step in the right direction, the Zuinglians added another: and the influence of the prevailing opinions of their day is very perceptible in the tone in which the Reformers comment on the prophets. Calvin, for instance, is remarkable for his sound common-sense view of difficulties: if an apparent inconsistency occurs, he is ready at once with his phrases, forma loquendi, per concessionem, ironice, καταχρηστικῶς, improprie, all implying his own riglit to use his private, judgment in solving a difficulty according to his pleasure. He often finds it necessary to exercise it. In Ezekiel 20:28, he ventures to suppose a phrase used in a sense directly contrary to its obvious meaning; and in verses 5-8, (Ezekiel 20:5-8,) he treats the Prophet’s words as “translatiae locutiones.” His desire to identify the prophetic teaching with the law of Moses on the one side, and with the precepts of the gospel on the other, leads him to invent these varying schemes for avoiding the literal meaning. The inexperienced student will learn wisdom by allowing the Law, the Prophets, and the Apostles, to speak their own separate language, and gradually to develop the designs and the character of God without either confusion or distortion. Still, the use of the word improprie must not mislead us; it does not signify “improperly” in the ordinary sense, but is used as in and proprie in Latin. It implies that a phrase does not bear the meaning which it seems to have it denies the Realist’s view of a question, and asserts that of the Nominalist. For instance, righteousness infused is the doctrine of one school; righteousneiss imputed that of the other the text of the fifty-fifth lecture speaks the language of the former; the comment of Calvin that of the latter. The Reformers have taught us to look for spiritual realities where only they can be found, and to deny their necessary connection with outward observances and tangible elements, whether under the temple rites, or the prophetic visions, or the apostolic ordinances.


Ezekiel 13:19

The remarks of the last article apply directly to Calvin’s language respecting the Almighty he says about the wicked “defile his glory,” “corrupt his justice,” and “prostitute even God himself,” (Ezekiel 13:19,) and then “drown in the lowest abyss of hell the whole world when disappointed of their gains.” This is the language of Realists, who suppose it possible for men thus to treat either the Almighty or their fellow-creatures. The anathemas of the Council of Trent are founded on the same fallacious bases, and the strong language of the vulgar savors of the same innate belief. The modern reader at once supplies the word “name” after the offensive verb “to prostitute.” Calvin probably understood it so, but, he did not write it so. His phraseology is largely tinctured with the errors of his times, though he has written enough to be correctly interpreted by himself. When we moderns think on the subject for a moment, we admit that no man can defile God’s glory, or corrupt his justice, or devote his fellow-sinner to the lowest abyss: we take any such expressions as simply denoting the views of the speakers or writers about matters immeasurably beyond them. If we more thoroughly understood the teaching of Locke and the continental Nominalists respecting abstract ideas, we should live without any fears of the success of those who unchurch all sects but their own, and who assert the cleansing efficacy of suffering, and the possibility of discovering the whole body of Catholic tradition. With us, for instance, altars are not only prohibited, but impossible. They are now a mere name — their reality is confined to the one altar, the Cross. It is equally as impossible to prostitute God as to erect an altar. The reader of these Commentaries must have observed that Calvin’s idea of God is rather more familiar than infinite he introduces his name into the minutest concerns, and thinks of him not as acting by general and settled laws, but as personally and constantly intervening between the conduct and the destined of men. He naturally transfers the conceptions and instincts of morality and holiness which he finds within himself to the Almighty — he clothes his idea of an awful Spirit with the attributes of a human conscience he imagines his Deity a divine man, purified, exalted, and unlimitedly endowed. Our acquaintance with the physical sciences leads us to see the Great Supreme acting through the visible universe by fixed and undeviating laws: so we expect that revelation will unfold to us laws of similar harmony, although apparently disturbed by the anomaly of rebellion and the mystery of sin. But Calvin without hesitation supposes ]the to interfere perpetually with the ordinary processes of our animal nature. For instance, in the 14th verse of this chapter, he supposes the Almighty to withdraw from the ordinary bread of this life its usual nourishment by way of punishing the wicked. He is said to break the staff of bread by puffing it up, and depriving it of its power of affording aliment to the body. He repeats this singular comment as the correct explanation of the language of Moses in Deuteronomy 8:3. (Ezekiel 14:14.) It may be perfectly true, that “unless God breathes into the bread the virtue of nourishment the bread is useless;” but where is the proof that he withdraws this nourishing power when the bread is tasted by the ungodly? The ignorance of the Reformers of those physical laws by which it pleases the Almighty that the natural universe should be governed, was very injurious to them as commentators on sacred writ’ they were constantly in danger of being like men who write on glass with diamonds, and thus obscure light with scratches. And not. only so, when Calvin speaks of “a secret virtue infused into the bread,” he adopts the language of the Realists: he assumes the existence of a quality which is philosophically incorrect. A disciple of Locke will be aware that this supposed virtue is only an abstract idea existing in the mind of man and not in the bread, and that it is only an admissible form of speech when it is understood as a general term for the aggregate of those chemical agents and properties which are realities. If God then withdraws this “infused virtue,” it is only a form of saying that he withdraws or suspends certain chemical agencies’ and who will now confidently assert this to be his method of interfering with the never-ceasing operations of his creation? So in Ezekiel 13:14, the action of Pinnehas, Numbers 25, is said to be infectum aliqto vitio. This again is the language of the Realists, and is erroneous. His work could not be infected morally either way it must have been his mind or his affections. The language erroneosly transfers moral attributes to the deed instead of to the man.

And here it may appositely be stated, that a correct exposition of the Prophecies never requires any violation of either physical or moral truth. Faith in the unity and supremacy of truth is one form of faith in God. The prophecies are rather illustrated than obscured by our increasing knowledge of the material universe. No true success in prophetic interpretations can be attained without a hearty reliance on the unity and majesty of all truth, without a calm confidence that contradictions are only apparent, and if we cannot explain them now, they will become clear hereafter. Reason, in its calmest and clearest vision, can be superseded only by being surpassed; feeling, in its tenderest mood, must still be ennobled by trust; and conscience must witness audibly and reverently to our need of the Spitit’s mysterious guidance “into all truth.”

Throughout the Prophet Ezekiel, Calvin is nobly consistent in pleading for God’s justice. There is no instinct more deeply seated in the human soul than this, — the Godlike must be just nothing can be permanently opposed to this essential principle. It must sooner or later be vindicated, and bring a certain measure of retribution, which must follow hard upon its transgression. Still many traditional modes of thought concerning the Almighty occur in these Commentaries, which modern information has very largely modified. God’s handwriting is now legible in many ways, where of old it was a blank. If his interposition is not now recognized in cherubs, and wheels, and burning flame, we are more conscious of the natural wonders developed in the dewdrop and the flower. Our age believes so many things of which the Reformers were ignorant, and disbelieves so much on which they laid stress, that we are in danger of overlooking the existence of great primeval truths, which constitute the essential religious life in man in all ages unchangeably. Veneration for what we believe God to be must be at the foundation of all diety; and imitation of what we believe God to do must ever be the substance of all duty. ‘The first qualification for persuing Ezekiel with advantage is the spiritual purification of self; and in this attainment Calvin materially assists us, by setting before us large conceptions of the Almighty’s character, and mature judgments of his purposes.

« Prev Notes on Ezekiel 13 Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection