« Prev 8. Later Forms of the Doctrine. Next »

§ 8. Later Forms of the Doctrine.

During the period between the Reformation and the present time, the doctrine concerning the Person of Christ was constantly under discussion. The views advanced however were, for the most part, referrible to the one or other of the forms of the doctrine already considered. The only theories calling for special notice are Socinianism and that of the Preëxistent Humanity of Christ.


Socinus was an Italian, born of a noble family at Siena, in 1539. The earlier part of his life was not devoted to learning. Being a favourite of the Grand Duke, he passed twelve years at his court, and then removed to Basel that he might prosecute his theological studies, in which he had become deeply interested. After a few years he removed to Poland and settled at Cracow. There and in its vicinity he passed the greater part of his active life. He died in 1604.

The early Socinians erected a college at Racovia, in Lesser Poland, which attained so high a reputation that it attracted students from among Protestants and Romanists. It was however suppressed by the government in 1658, and the followers of Socinus, after having suffered a protracted persecution, were expelled from the kingdom.


Socinus and his followers admitted the divine authority of the Scriptures. The sacred writers, they said, wrote, divino Spiritu impulsi eoque dictante. They admitted that the Bible contained doctrines above, but not contrary to reason. Of this contrariety reason was to judge. On this ground they rejected many doctrines held by the Church universal, especially the doctrines of the Trinity and of the Atonement. Socinus said that as there is but one divine essence there can be but one divine person. He denied that there is any such thing as natural religion or natural theology. Supernatural revelation he regarded as the only source of our knowledge of God and of divine things. The only religion was the Christian, which he defined to be “Via divinitus proposita et patefacta perveniendi ad immortalitatem, seu æternam vitam.”333333Christianæ Religionis brevissima Institutio per Interrogationes et Responsiones, quam Cathechismum vulgo vocant. Scripta a Fausto Socino Senensi. Irenopoli, Post annum 1656. It makes a part of the first volume of the works of Faustus Socinus, as published in the Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, pp. 651-676. This is the answer to the first question of the “Brevissima Institutio,” of which Socinus was the author.

All men having sinned they became subject to the penalty of eternal death, which Socinus understood to be annihilation. To deliver men from this penalty God sent Christ into the world, and it is only through Him that immortality can be secured. Concerning Christ, he taught that He was in Himself and by nature a mere man, having had no existence prior to his being born of the Virgin Mary. He was, however, distinguished from all other men, —

1. By his miraculous conception.334334On this point, Socinus, in the Brevissima Institutio, says, “De Christi essentia ita statuo illum esse hominem Rom. v. 15, in Virginis utero et sic sine viri ope, divini Spiritus vi conceptum ac formatum, Matt. i. 20-23; Luc. i. 35, indeque genitum, primum quidem patibilem ac mortalem 2 Cor. xiii. 4 donec scilicet munus sibi a Deo demandatum hic in terris obivit; deinde vero postquam in cœlum ascendit, impatibilem et immortalem tactum Rom. vi. 9.” Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, Fausti Socini Opera, vol. i. p. 654.

2. Although peccable and liable to be tempted, He was entirely free from sin.

3. He received a special baptism of the Holy Ghost, that is, of the divine efficiency.

4. Some time before entering upon his public ministry He was taken up into heaven that He might see God and be instructed immediately by Him. There are two passages which speak of Christ’s having been in heaven (John iii. 13, and John vi. 62). “In priore loco,” says Socinus, “ex Græco ita verba Christi legi possunt, ut dicat, filium hominis non quidem esse in cœlo, sed fuisse. 420Vox enim Græca ‬ὤν quæ per præsens tempus reddita fuit, potest, ut doctissimi aliqui interpretes annotarunt (Erasmus et Beza), reddi per præteritum imperfectum; ut legatur non qui est, sed, qui erat in cœlo.335335Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, Fausti Socini Opera, vol. i. p. 674. As no preëxistence of Christ was admitted, these passages were regarded as direct assertions of his being taken up into heaven during his earthly life.

5. The great distinction of Christ is that since his resurrection and ascension all power in heaven and in earth has been committed to Him. He is exalted above all creatures, and constituted God’s viceroy over the whole universe. The question is asked, “Quid tamen istud ejus divinum imperium nominatim complectitur?” To which the answer is, “Propter id quod jam dictum est, nempe quod hoc potestatem complectitur plenissimam et absolutissimam in verum Dei populum, hinc necessario sequitur, eodem divino imperio contineri potestatem et dominationem in omnes angelos et spiritus tam malos, quam bonos.336336Ibid. vol. i. p. 656. And again: “Nonne ex eadem tua ratiocinatione sequitur, Jesum Christum in omnes homines plenum dominatum habere? Sine dubio; nec solum in omnes homines sed præter ipsum unum Deum 1 Cor. xv. 27, prorsus in alia omnia, quemadmodum divina testimonia nos diserte docent.337337Ibid.

6. On account of this exaltation and authority Christ is properly called God, and is to be worshipped. Socinus would recognize no man as a Christian who was not a worshipper of Christ. The answer to Question 246 in the Racovian Catechism, declares those “qui Christum non invocant nec adorandum censent,” to be no Christians, because in fact they have no Christ.338338In answer to this question, “Numquid humanæ naturæ in Christo exaltationem recta percipere non prorsus necessariam esse statuis?” the Brevissima Institutio answers (Ibid. p. 655). “Eatenus rectam cognitionem istam prorsus necessariam esse statuo, quatenus quis sine illa non esset Christo Jesu divinum cultum exhibiturus, ob eam causam, quam antes dixi: nimirum, quod Deus ut id a nobis fiat, omnino requirit.” Socinus also says that they are not Christians who deny that Christ understands our thoughts when we pray. Ibid, 656.

7. Socinus acknowledges that men owe their salvation to Christ. He saves them not only in his character of prophet by teaching them the truth; not only in his character of priest by interceding for them; but especially in virtue of his kingly office. He exercises the divine and absolute power and authority granted to Him for their protection and assistance. He operates not only over them and for them, but also within them, so that it is through Him that immortality or eternal life is secured.

From all this it appears that Socinus and his early followers held 421much more exalted views of Christ than those who in Great Britain and America are called Socinians, by whom our Lord is regarded as an ordinary man. The term Unitarian, especially in this country, is used in a sense which includes all who deny the doctrine of the Trinity and retain the name of Christians. It therefore includes Arians, Semi-Arians, genuine Socinians, and Humanitarians.

Preëxistence of Christ’s Humanity.


This theory has been held in different forms. The doctrine of Swedenborg is so mystical that it is very difficult to be clearly understood, and it has been modified in a greater or less degree by his recognized disciples. Swedenborg was the son of a Swedish bishop. He was born in January, 1688, and died in March, 1772. He enjoyed every advantage of early education. He manifested extraordinary precocity, and made such attainments in every branch of learning as to gain the highest rank among the literati of that day. He wrote numerous works in all the departments of science before he turned his attention to matters of religion. Believing that the existing Church in all its forms had failed to arrive at the true sense of Scripture, he regarded himself as called by God, in an extraordinary or miraculous manner, to reveal the hidden meaning of the Word of God and found a new Church.

1. Concerning God, he taught that He was not only essence but form, and that that form was human. He called God “the eternal God-man.” There are two kinds of bodies, material and spiritual. Every man, besides his external material body has another which is internal and spiritual. The latter has all the organs of the former, so that it can see, hear, and feel. At death the outer body is laid aside, and the soul thereafter acts through the ethereal or spiritual vestment. This is the only resurrection which Swedenborg admitted. There is no rising again of the bodies laid in the grave. As however the spiritual corresponds to the material, those who know each other in this world will enjoy mutual recognition in the world to come. This feature of his anthropology is connected with his doctrine concerning God. For as the soul from its nature forms for itself a body for action ad extra, so the essence of God forms for itself a spiritual body for external manifestation.

As there is but one divine essence, Swedenborg maintained that there can be but one divine person. The Church doctrine of the Trinity he regarded as Tritheistic. He admitted a Trinity of 422principles, but not of persons. As soul and body in man are one person, and from them proceeds the activity which operates without, so in God the divine and human are the Father and the Son, as one person, and the Holy Spirit is their efficiency or sanctifying influence.

2. Concerning man, Swedenborg taught that he was created in the image of God, and was a creature of a very exalted nature. The Scriptural account of the fall he understood allegorically of the apostasy of the Church. Men, however, he admits, are sinful, and are even born with a bias to evil, but they have not lost their ability to do good. They consequently need redemption. They are susceptible of being delivered from evil not only because they retain their moral liberty, but also because in virtue of the inward spiritual body they are capable of intercourse with spiritual beings. As man by means of his material body is conversant with the world of sense, so in virtue of his spiritual body he is capable of intercourse with the inhabitants of the spiritual world. Swedenborg reports many instances in which he conversed with God and angels, good and bad. By angels, however, he meant men who had departed this life. He did not admit the existence of any created intelligence other than man.

3. Christ he held to be Jehovah, the only living and true God, the creator, preserver, and ruler of the world. As this divine person was God and man from eternity, his incarnation, or manifestation in the flesh, consisted in his assuming a material body with its psychical life in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This was the body which grew, suffered, and died. In the case of ordinary men the material body is left forever in the grave, but in the case of Christ the outward body was gradually refined and glorified until it was lost in that which is spiritual and eternal. This idea of a twofold body in Christ is not by any means peculiar to Swedenborg. Barclay, the representative theologian of the Quakers, says: “As there was the outward visible body and temple of Jesus Christ, which took its origin from the Virgin Mary: there is also the spiritual body of Christ, by and through which He that was the Word in the beginning with God, and was and is God, did reveal Himself to the sons of men in all ages, and whereby men in all ages come to be made partakers of eternal life, and to have communion and fellowship with God and Christ.”339339An Apology for the True Christian Divinity. Prop. XIII. 2; edit. Philadelphia, 1805, p. 463. And again, P. Poiret, of Amsterdam, teaches that “La Majesté divine voulut 423couvrir son corps glorieux de notre chair mortelle, qu’il voulut prendre dans le sein d’une Vierge.” “Le corps de Jésus Christ, se revêtant de la chair et du sang de la bien heureuse Vierge, fera aussi peu un composé de deux corps différents, qu’un habit blanc et lumineux plongé dans un vase de couleur chargée et obscure, ou il se charge de la matière, qui produit cette opacité, ne devient pour cela un habit double ou deux habits, au lieu d’un.340340Œconomie du Rétablissement après l’Incarnation de Jésus Christ, chap. ii. §§ 11, 12. Quoted by Dorner, Person of Christ, div. II. vol. ii., p. 328.

4. Christ’s redemptive work does not consist in his bearing our sins upon the tree, or in making satisfaction to the justice of God for our offences. All idea of such satisfaction Swedenborg rejects. The work of salvation is entirely subjective. Justification is pardon granted on repentance. The people of God are made inwardly righteous, and being thus holy are admitted to the presence of God and holy spirits in heaven. His peculiar views of the state of the departed, or of Heaven and Hell, do not call for consideration in this place.341341Swedenborg’s doctrines are most clearly and concisely presented in his book, Vera Christiana Religio. Amsterdam, 1771. It has been frequently translated. An English version was published in Boston in 1833, in one volume, 8 vo. pp. 576. As an illustration of the way in which Swedenborg speaks of his intercourse with the spirit-world, a few sentences may be quoted from the thirtieth page of the work just mentioned. He says that when he was astonished at the multitude of persons who merged God into nature, an angel stood at his side and said, “‘What are you meditating about?’ and I replied, ‘About the multitude of such persons as believe that nature is of itself, and thus the creator of the universe.’ And the angel said to me, ‘All hell is of such, and they are called there satans and devils: satans, who have confirmed themselves in favour of nature, and thence have denied God; devils, who have lived wickedly, and thus have rejected from their hearts all acknowledgement of God.’”

Isaac Watts.

No one familiar with Dr. Watts’ “Psalms and Hymns,” can doubt his being a devout worshipper of our Lord Jesus Christ, or call in question his belief in the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet on account of his peculiar views on the person of Christ, there is a vague impression that he had in some way departed from the faith of the Church. It is, indeed, often said that he was Arian. In his works,342342Watts’ Works, edit. London, 1753, vol. vi. pp. 413-492. however, there is a dissertation on “The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity: or, Father, Son, and Spirit, three persons and one God, asserted and proved, with their divine Rights and Honors vindicated, by plain evidence of Scripture, without the aid or incumbrance of human Schemes. Written chiefly for the use of private Christians.” In that dissertation the common Church doctrine is presented in the usual form, and sustained by the common arguments, with singular perspicuity and force.


His peculiar views on the person of Christ are brought out in three discourses on “The Glory of Christ as God-man,”343343Watts, Works, ut supra, vol. vi. pp. 721-855. published in 1746. In the first of these he refers to the “visible appearances of Christ, as God before his incarnation,” and brings into view all the texts in which He is called Jehovah, God, and Lord, and those in which divine attributes and prerogatives are ascribed to Him.

In the second, he treats of the “extensive powers of the human nature of Christ in its present glorified state.” In a previous essay he took the position that the “human soul of Christ is the first, the greatest, the wisest, the holiest, and the best of all created spirits.”344344Ibid. p. 706. He argues this point from all those passages of Scripture which speak of the exaltation of Christ and of the gift to Him of absolutely universal dominion. As the divine nature of Christ does not admit of exaltation or of receiving anything as a gift, he inferred that these passages must be understood of his human nature, and therefore that Christ as a man must be regarded as exalted over all created beings. To the objection, “How is it possible that a human spirit should be endued with powers of so vast an extent?” he answers, first, that the power in question is not infinite; and secondly, that if the doctrine of the infinite divisibility of matter be true, we cannot fix the minimum of smallness, and how then can we determine the maximum of greatness. “Why,” he asks, “may not the human soul of Christ be as well appointed to govern the world, as the soul of man is appointed to govern his body, when it is evident the soul of man does not know one thousandth part of the fine branchings of the muscles and nerves, and the more refined vapour or animal spirits which are parts of this body?”345345Ibid. p. 786. Thirdly, we can hardly set a limit even to our own capacity; and yet the “soul of Christ may be reasonably supposed in its own nature to transcend the powers of all other souls as far as an angel exceeds an idiot, and yet be but a human soul still, for gradus non mutant speciem.”346346Ibid. p. 787. Fourthly, if the powers of the soul of Christ were not in his state of humiliation sufficient for the purposes of government and judgment, that does not prove that they are not now sufficient in his glorified estate. “Who knows what amazing enlargement may attend all the natural powers of man when advanced to a state of glory?”347347Ibid. p. 789. Fifthly and mainly, this supreme exaltation of the power of the human 425soul of Christ is due to its union with the divine nature. It was because of this union that when the soul of Christ, while here on earth, willed to perform a miracle, the effect immediately followed. So “the man Christ may give forth all the commands of God whereby the world is governed.”348348Watts, Works, ut supra, vol. vi. p. 795. “Upon this representation of things,” he adds, “the various language of Scripture appears to be true, and is made very intelligible. Christ says ‘He can do nothing of himself, He knew not the day of judgment’ when He was here on earth, etc., and yet He is said to ‘know the hearts of men, and to know all things’; for as fast as the divine mind united to Him was pleased to communicate all these ideas, so fast was his human nature capable of receiving them.”349349Ibid. p. 796.

The third discourse is devoted to proving the preëxistence of the human soul of Christ. He argues from the fact that there are many expressions in the Bible, which seem to imply that He had a dependent nature before He came into this world. He is called the angel or messenger of God, and is represented as sent to execute his will. He urges also the fact that He is said to be the image of God. But the divine essence or nature cannot be the image of itself. That term can only apply to a created nature united to the divine, so that the “complex person” thus constituted, should reveal what God is. An argument is also drawn from all those passages in which Christ is said to have humbled Himself, to have become poor, to have made Himself of no reputation. All this cannot, he says, be properly understood of the divine nature, but is perfectly intelligible and full of meaning if referred to the human soul of our Lord. It was an act of unspeakable condescension for the highest intelligent creature to “empty Himself” and become as ignorant and feeble as an infant, and to submit not only to grow in wisdom, but to subject Himself to the infirmities and sufferings of our mortal state. If asked how so exalted an intellect can be reduced to the condition or state of an infant, he answers, that something analogous to this not unfrequently occurs, even in human experience. Men of mature age and of extensive learning have lost all their knowledge, and have been reduced to the necessity of learning it all over again, though in some cases it has returned suddenly. It was the same nature that emptied itself that was afterwards filled with glory as a recompense. Another argument for the preëxistence of the soul of Christ, he says, may be drawn from the fact that his incarnation “‘is always expressed in some corporeal language, 426such as denotes his taking on Him animal nature, or body, or flesh, without the least mention of taking a soul.’”350350Watts, Works, vol. vi. p. 820.

Again,351351Ibid. p. 819. “‘The covenant betwixt God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ for the redemption of mankind, is represented in Scripture as being made and agreed upon from or before the foundation of the world. Is it not then most proper that both real parties should be actually present, and that this should not be transacted merely within the divine essence by such sort of distinct personalities as have no distinct mind and will? The essence of God is generally agreed by our Protestant divines to be the same single numerical essence in all three personalities, and therefore it can be but one conscious mind or spirit. Now can one single understanding and will make such a covenant as Scripture represents? I grant the divine nature which is in Christ from eternity contrived and agreed all the parts of this covenant. But does it not add a lustre and glory, and more conspicuous equity, to this covenant, to suppose the man Christ Jesus who is most properly the mediator according to 1 Tim. ii. 5, to be also present before the world was made, to be chosen and appointed as the redeemer or reconciler of mankind, to be then ordained the head of his future people, to receive promises, grace, and blessings in their name, and to accept the solemn and weighty trust from the hand of his Father, that is, to take care of millions of souls?”

He also argues from what the Bible teaches of the Sonship of Christ. “When He is called a Son, a begotten Son, this seems to imply derivation and dependency; and perhaps the Sonship of Christ, and his being the only begotten of the Father, may be better explained by attributing it to his human soul, existing by some peculiar and immediate manner of creation, formation, or derivation from the Father, before other creatures were formed; especially if we include in the same idea of Sonship his union to the divine nature, and if we add also his exaltation to the office of the Messiah, as King and Lord of all.”352352Ibid. p. 825.

Dr. Watts explains clearly what he means by the preëxistence of the humanity of Christ, when he says:353353Ibid. p. 844. “All the idea which I have of a human soul is this, namely, a created mind or spirit which hath understanding and will, and rational powers, and which is fit to be united to a human body, in such a manner as to exert the powers of a man, to feel the appetites and sensibilities and passions of a man, as to receive impressions or sensations, whether 427pleasant or painful, by the means of that body, and is also able to actuate and influence all the animal powers of that body in a way agreeable to human nature.”

The above is very far from being a full exposition of the considerations urged by Dr. Watts in support of his theory. It is simply a selection of the more plausible of his arguments presented in order that his doctrine may be properly understood.

It appears that he believed in the eternal Godhead of the Logos as the second person of the Trinity; and that God, before any other creatures were called into existence, created a human soul in personal union with the Logos of such exalted powers as to render him the greatest of all created spirits; that the incarnation consisted in this complex person assuming a material human body with its animal life; that the humiliation of Christ consisted in his human soul thus exalted in its own nature, emptying itself of its knowledge, power, and glory, and submitting not only to the gradual development of his humanity, but also to all that made our Lord while here on earth a man of sorrows. His exaltation consisted in the enlargement of the powers of his soul during his state of humiliation, and in his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God.


The more obvious objections to this theory are, —

1. That it is contrary to the common faith of the Church, and, therefore, to the obvious sense of Scripture. The Bible in teaching that the Son of God became man, thereby teaches that He assumed a true body and a rational soul. For neither a soul without a body, nor a body without a soul, is a man in the Scriptural sense of the term. It was the Logos which became man; and not a God-man that assumed a material body.

2. The passages of Scripture cited in its support are interpreted, for the most part, in violation of the recognized principle that whatever is true of either nature in Christ, may be predicated of his person. As Christ could say, “I thirst,” without implying that his divine nature was subject to the wants of a material body; so He could say, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth,” without teaching that such power vests in his humanity.

3. The doctrine that Christ’s human soul was the first and most exalted of created spirits, raises Him beyond the reach of human sympathies. He is, as man, farther from us than the angel Gabriel. We need, and the Bible reveals to us a, so to speak, more circumscribed Saviour, one who, although true God, is nevertheless 428a man like unto his brethren, whom we can embrace in the arms of our faith and love.354354Dr. Watts, vol. vi. pp. 853, 854, refers to several distinguished writers and theologians as agreeing with him as to his doctrine of the preëxistence of the soul of Christ. Among them are Dr. Henry More, Mystery of Godliness; Dr. Edward Fowler, Bishop of Gloucester, in his Discourse of the descent of the man Christ Jesus from Heaven; Dr. Francis Gastrell, Bishop of Chester, in his Remarks on Dr. Clarke’s Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity; Dr. Thomas Burnet, of the Charter House, in his book, De Statu Mortuorum et Resurgentium.

« Prev 8. Later Forms of the Doctrine. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection