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Jewish and Christian Scriptures. They found Christianity daily gaining ground : and when it was hopeless for them to conquer, they endeavoured to conciliate: they laboured hard to shew that the doctrines of Plato and the gospel were in many points alike: and the obscurity of Plato's language enabled them to ascribe to him sentiments which he certainly never entertained. Thus the later Platonists, and even the Christian Fathers, speak of Plato contradicting himself, by sometimes saying that Matter was eternal, and sometimes that it was created". The Platonists went so far as to assert, that Plato did not hold that Matter was eternal. But the assertion was undoubtedly false : and no position seems more firmly established, and none is more important for a right understanding of ancient philosophy, than that all the schools of antiquity agreed in acknowledging the fundamental principle, that nothing was produced out of nothing, Nullam rem e nihilo gigni divinitus unquam.
LUCRET. I. 151.
Hence it followed, that all the Grecian philosophers believed Matter to be eternala. Whether the one proposition does necessarily lead to the other, or whether a system of emanations, like that of the Cabbala or of Spinoza, might not account for creation without the intervention of Matter, is a question which we are not called upon to discuss. The Grecian philosophers did not adopt the system of emanation"9. They all held, that Matter was eternal: and such undoubtedly was the opinion of Plato.
A See Thomasius, Schediasm. Hist. §. 37. p. 29.
This was the expedient by which all the philosophers thought to rescue God from being the author of evil: forgetting, as it appears, that at the same time they limited his omnipotence, and made him, though not the author of evil, yet himself subject to its influence: for a being who is all good, and yet restricted in his power, is undoubtedly subject to evil. This, however, is only one of the many inconsistencies which appear in ancient philosophy; and I have already pointed out another, when speaking of the Gnostics,—that the ancients gave to God a power of modifying Matter, though they believed it to be coeternal with himself 20.
It is, I believe, true—though the remark will not perhaps immediately obtain assent—that unassisted human reason never arrived at the idea that God can create Matter out of nothing. This is one of the points, which we know from revelation only: and that man's metaphysics are as yet very imperfect, who can conceive God to be omnipotent, and yet imagine that any thing exists without his will, which he cannot modify and annihilate as he pleases. The world by wisdom knew not God. Plato was wise, but he knew him not: he saw him darkly and at a distance; but his mind was too small to contemplate the time when God spake the word, and called Matter into being. Here, then, was the basis, the false, the unphilosophical basis, on which all the Grecian sages built their systems. Matter was coeternal with God; and the world was formed, either by Matter acting upon itself, or being acted upon by God. The School of Epicurus made Matter act upon itself, and the Deity was reduced to a name. The Stoics and Peripatetics believed God to have
acted upon Matter; but it was from necessity, and not from choice b.
Plato had already adopted a system more worthy of the Deity, and conceived that God acted upon Matter of his own free will, and by calling order out of disorder formed the world. Plato certainly did not believe the world to be eternal, though such a notion is ascribed to Aristotled. Plato held the eternity of Matter; but he believed the arrangement and harmony of the universe to be the work of the Deity. Here begins the peculiar intricacy of the Platonic system.
Every thing, except the Deity, which exists in heaven and in earth, whether the object of sense or purely intellectual, was believed to have had a beginning. There was a time when it did not exist : but there never was a time, when the Idea, i.e. the form or archetype, did not exist in the mind of the Deity. Hence we find so many writers speak of three Principles being held by Plato, the Deity, the Idea, and Mattera. It is difficult to explain the Platonic doctrine of Ideas, without running into mysticism or obscurity: but perhaps if we lay aside for a time the doctrines of
The opinion of these dif- He contrasts this notion with ferent sects concerning the his own, which was, that they creation of the world is well were produced
with reason explained by Thomasius, Sche- “ and divine knowledge prodiasm. Histor. §. 37. p. 29.
“ ceeding from God." SophisEsercit. de Stoica mundi exusti- ta, p. 265. Anaxagoras was ORE, Diss. II. de IV Græcorum the first philosopher who taught
this. Eus. Præp. Evang. x. 14. ? It would seem as if the p. 504 : xiv. 14. p. 750. majority of persons in Plato's d See Philo Judæus de Mundi day believed that “ Nature Incorruptibilitate, vol. II. p. 489. "produced all things by a kind Cudworth IV. 14. vol. I. p. 366. " of spontaneous cause, and ed. Mosheim. " without a producing Mind."
sectis, p. 29.
the ancients, and take our own notions of the Deity, we may be able to form some conception of Plato's meaning
We believe that there was a time, when the world which we inhabit, and every thing which moves upon it, did not exist : but we cannot say that there ever was a time, when the works of creation were not present to the mind of the Deity. There may therefore be the image of a thing, though as yet it has received no material form : or to use the illustration of the Platonists, the seal may exist without the impression. We know indeed that our own minds can form to themselves images, which are not only unsubstantial, but no likeness of which was ever yet an object of sense. In the same manner the images of all created things are present to the mind of the Deity: and these images must have existed before the material copies of them. Plato supposed these images to possess a real existence, and gave to them the name of Form, Example, Archetype, or Idea; and the use, which he made of them, constitutes the peculiar character of the Platonic philosophy a3. He saw that these Ideas not only preceded the creation of the world, but must have been present to the Deity from all eternity; and he could assign to them no other place than the mind of the Deity, which he sometimes calls Mind, and sometimes Reason. Plato's conception of the creation, or to speak more properly, the formation of the world, borders hard upon the sublime. He
• “ον τρόπον σφραγίδος μιας μάτων φύσεις παμπληθείς, Didyεκμαγεία γίνεσθαι πολλά, και συ mus apud Eus. Præp. Evang. χνάς εικόνας ενός ανδρός, ούτως έκ ΧΙ. 23. p. 545. μιάς εκάστης ιδέας αισθητων σω
conceived the first process of it to be purely mental. The mind or reason of God, in which were the Ideas of all things, acted upon Matter, and gave to the universe a soul, or moving principle. Creation began with beings purely intellectual, whom Plato, in deference to popular opinion, called Gods, but which were very unlike to the Deities of Paganism; and from the obscurity of his language it is difficult to distinguish them from the heavenly bodies 24. These intellectual beings received a principle of immortality, and were commissioned by God to create beings of an inferior order, whose souls had already existed, when the soul of the universe was formed. Here again we find Plato struggling with the difficulty of believing God to be the author of evil. God employed his celestial agents to finish the creation, and to form mortal bodies : for if he formed them himself, he would be the creator of evil, and that evil would be immortal. This was the weak part of Plato's philosophy: but the same weakness pervaded every other system; and without seeking to penetrate his obscurity any further, we may proceed to compare the sketch here given of his doctrines with those of the Gnostics.
The Gnostics, as we have seen, agreed with Plato in making Matter coeternal with God'. They also believed, that the material world was formed after an eternal and intellectual Idea. This peculiar and mystical notion is the very soul of Platonism: and we learn from Irenæus, that it was held by all the Gnostics". Both parties also believed in an inter
Et hoc autem, quod ex Anaxagoras et Empedocles et subjecta materia dicunt fabri. Plato primi ante hos dixerunt. catorem fecisse mundum, et Iren. II. 14, 4. p. 134.