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Dias’ Letters: Letter 20

(Continued from Volume IV., page 357)

The doctrine of the Trinity being once introduced, and made a fundamental article of Christianity, every one pretends to support their different opinions concerning it, and all appeal to the witnesses of the New Testament to prove, that which they themselves declare to be incomprehensible, and unintelligible.

The very terms contradicting one another, and showing the folly of pretending to explain that which none can either understand or comprehend, soon occasioned such divisions amongst Christians, as are not to be paralleled in history. Each party damning, excommunicating, <<50>>banishing, imprisoning, fining, and even murdering the other; in such manner that I have often wondered, that people who are so ready to apply God’s judgment, on other occasions, should not bethink themselves, that these troubles came on the Church, as a judgment for their manifold absurdities and impieties.

The creed which establishes this doctrine, is so full of contradictions and inconsistencies, that I challenge any person to compose, within the same compass of words, anything equal to it, or more repugnant to reason and common sense. For the truth of this, I shall refer you to the Athanasian Creed, which is crammed down the throats of believers, “as necessary to salvation,” inflicting on unbelievers the cruelest punishments, even that of “perishing everlasting,” concluding by saying: “This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe he cannot be saved.” But as it is impossible for any intelligent, reasonable man, to believe the doctrine of the Trinity; those who pretend to it, assert such things as are almost incredible. The pious Bishop Beveridge (as he is commonly called) is an instance of this. Concerning this article of the Trinity, he has the following passage: “This, I confess, is a mystery  which I cannot possibly conceive; yet it is a truth which I can easily believe; yea, therefore it is so true, that I can easily believe it; because it is so high, that I cannot possibly conceive it; for it is impossible anything should be true of the Infinite Creator, which can be easily expressed to the capacities of a finite creature; and for this reason I ever did, and ever shall, look upon those apprehensions of God to be the truest, whereby we apprehend Him to be the most incomprehensible, and that to be the most true of God which seems the most impossible unto us.”*

* Thoughts on Rit. Article 3.

Who after this can believe the Trinity, since it gives us notions of God so contradictory in themselves, and so inconsistent to his attributes? But this is not all; for the Bishop continues: “Upon this ground, therefore, it is that the mysteries of the Gospel, which I am less able to conceive, I think myself the more obliged to believe, especially this mystery of mysteries, the Trinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinity: which I am so far from being able to comprehend, or indeed to apprehend, that I cannot seriously set myself to think of it, or to sum up my thoughts a little concerning it, but I immediately lose myself in a trance or ecstacy. That God the Father should be one perfect God of himself; God the Son, one perfect God of himself; and God the Holy Ghost one perfect God of himself; and yet these three, should be but one perfect God of himself; so that one <<51>>should be perfectly three, and three perfectly one: that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, should be three, and yet but one: but one, and yet three! O heart-amazing thought, devouring, inconceivable mystery! who cannot believe it to be true of the glorious Deity? Certainly none but such as are able to apprehend it; which I am sure I cannot, and believe no other creature can, and because no creature can possibly conceive how it should be so, therefore I believe it to be so.” I am tired of transcribing  this nonsense; which is really what Christians trust believe, a faith, or cause of faith, however, that I shall never be able to attain; neither do I believe the Bishop himself ever did, if he was a rational reasonable creature. Thus you see to what absurdities, inconsistencies, and incredibilities, those are led to believe, who, contrary to Scripture, to reason, and to common sense, set up the Trinity.

I know of but one passage in the whole New Testament which can lead to this doctrine; and that is: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;”* which passage I will, on another occasion, take into consideration, and prove, from many circumstances, its spuriousness; inserted long after Matthew’s time, when the doctrine of the Trinity took place, and baptism had been instituted as a sacrament, in order to authorize both the one and the other.

* Matt. 20:19.

There is, however, one method made use of to baffle all inquiries concerning this, and other articles of the Christian faith, which is to make them mysteries; everything which is contrary to reason and common sense (as everything peculiar to Christianity is) is a mystery. They have but little regard to what St. Peter advises them to, “Be always ready to give an answer to every man, that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you.”* They choose rather to answer the character which Paul the Apostle gives of some in his days, namely: “Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor wherefore they affirm.”† To such we may say in St. Paul’s words, “So likewise you, except ye utter by the tongue, words easy to be understood, how how shall it be known what is spoken?”‡ “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian; and he that speaketh, shall be a barbarian unto me.”§ All which is a very just way of reasoning; for if the meaning of the voice may be known and explained, then it ceases to be mysterious; but if they <<52>>utter with their tongues things not understood; or if they form propositions contradictory in themselves “How shall it be know known what is spoken,” or how shall people believe if they “Know not the meaning of the voice?” Must not such doctrines be rejected on St. Paul’s principles? But alas! they not only subscribe to these doctrines, but swear to the belief of them; and are therefore under an obligation to support them. An unhappiness this, greatly to be lamented, as a hindrance to truth and sincerity.

* 1 Pet. 3:15 † 1 Tim. 1:7 ‡ 1 Cor. 14:9  § 1 Cor. 14:11.

Mahomed, whatever he might have been in other respects, merits the highest praises, for his just and true notion of God, and for inculcating the same to his followers. The ingenious Mr. Sale does him justice by declaring: “That both Mahomed, and those among his followers who were reckoned orthodox, had and continue to have, just notions of God, and his attributes, (always excepting their obstinate and impious rejecting of the Trinity.”)* Now, how a person can be called impious, who has just notions of God and his attributes, merely because he does not admit of a Trinity, is what I cannot comprehend.  But if Christians think them obstinate, they are, however, consistent in rejecting this doctrine; for Mahomed declares, “Whoever shall give a companion unto God, God shall exclude him from paradise, and his habitation shall be hell-fire. They are certainly infidels, who say, God is the third of the three, for there is no God besides one God.”† In another chapter he says, “Say not there are three gods; forbear this, it will be better for you God is but one God.”‡ And why may they not urge, that those who admit a generation in the deity, reason inconsistently? for if it only produce the same God, then it is useless; and if another, unnecessary; an argument not to be answered by either Arians or Trinitarians.

* See his Prelim. Disc. see. 4, p. 71. † Koran, chap 5. ‡ Koran, chap. 4

I shall conclude this article with the opinions of the greatest geniuses of our age. The first is Mr. Wollaston, who says, “He who exists of himself, depends in no regard upon another, and (as being a Supreme Cause) in the foundation of existence to other beings, must exist in the uppermost and best means of existing; and not only so, but (since He is infinite and unlimited), He must exist in the best manner, unlimitedly and infinitely; now, to exist thus, is infinite goodness of existence; and to exist in a manner infinitely good, is to be perfect. There can be but one such being, that is, as it appears by Prop. 3d, that there must be at least one independent being, such as is mentioned in Prop. 1st; so now, that in reality, there is but one; be<<53>>cause his manner of existence being perfect and unlimited. That manner of being, (if I may speak so) is exhausted by Him, or belongs solely to Him; if any other could partake with Him in it, He must want what that other had; be deficient and limited; infinite and unlimited, enclose all. If there could be two beings, each by himself absolutely perfect, they must be either of the same, or different natures; of the same they cannot be; because, thus both being infinite, their existence would be coincident; that is, they would be but the same one. Nor can they be of different natures; because if their natures were opposite, or contrary, one to the other, being equal, (infinite both, and everywhere meeting, the one with the other,) the one would just destroy, or be the negation of the other.”

The following is a translation of part of Mr. Locke’s Letter to Mr. Limborch, dated 2d April, 1698. (See his Works.) “The question you propose is reduced to this ‘How the unity of God may be proved,’ or, in other terms, ‘How it can be proved that there is but one God?’ To resolve this question, it is necessary to know, before we come to prove the unity of God, what we understand by the word God. The ordinary idea, and I believe the true idea, we have of God, and of such who know his existence, is that he is an infinite Being, eternal, incorporeal, and all-perfect. Then, from this known idea, it seems to me easy to deduce the unity of God. In effect, a being all-perfect, or otherwise, perfectly perfect, cannot be but solely; because, a being all-perfect cannot want any of the attributes, perfections, or degrees of perfection, which imports him more to possess than to be deprived of; for otherwise he would want as much as would make him entirely perfect. For example: to have power is a much greater perfection than to have none; to have still greater power, is a greater perfection than to have less; and to have all power, which is to be almighty, is a greater perfection than to want any part of it. This proved, two beings, almighty, are incompatible; because we should be obliged to suppose, that one would necessarily will that which the other would, and, in that case, one of the two, in which the will is, must necessarily determine the will of the other, who could not be free, and would, consequently, want that perfection, which we have treated of. For ‘tis better to be free, than to be submissive to the determination and will of another. And if they are not reduced to the necessity of willing always one and the same thing: in such case, the one might act that which the other would not, and then the will of the one would prevail over the will of the other, and he of the two, whose power could not second his will, cannot be almighty; for he cannot do as much as the other. Of <<54>>course, then, there are not two almighty beings, nor can there be two almighty beings, consequently there cannot be two Gods. By the same idea of perfection, we attain to the knowledge of God being omniscient; so that the supposition of two distinct beings which have a power, and one distinct will, is an imperfection, that one cannot screen his thoughts from the other; but if one can screen his thoughts from the other, then cannot the other be omniscient; for not only be does not know that which may be known; but, likewise, does not know what the other knows. The sane may be said of God’s omnipresence. It is better he should be in the vast extent of infinite space, than to be excluded from the smallest part of space; for if he is excluded from any part of space, he cannot operate, nor know what is done in that space, and consequently, can neither be almighty nor omniscient. If against this reasoning it should be said that the two gods which they suppose, (or the two hundred thousand, for by the same reasoning that there may be two, there may be two million, for there is no method of limiting the number,) I say if they suppose, that several gods, have one perfect almighty, that is exactly the same power; and have also the same knowledge, the same will, and that they equally exist in the same place, it is only multiplying the same being.

But in the end, they do but reduce one supposed plurality to one true unity. For to suppose two intelligent beings, who know, will, and do incessantly the same thing, and have not a separate existence, is nothing more than to suppose, in words, one plurality, and to admit, effectually, one simple unity. For the being inseparably united by the will, by the understanding, by the action, and by the place, is as great an union as one intelligent being, can possibly be united to himself; and, consequently, the supposing that, where there is such an union, there can be two beings, is to suppose a division where there can be none; or a thin divided with itself.” There requires no addition to the plain, clear, and convincing reasoning of the foregoing learned persons. I shall only apply to the subject of these letters, the words of the excellent Archbishop Tillotson, when he tells us: “That if all the great mathematicians, of all ages, Archimedes, and Euclid, and Appolonius, and Diophantus, &c., could be supposed to meet in a general council, and should there declare, in a most solemn manner, and give it under their hands and seals, that twice two did not make four, but five, that this would not in the least move him to be of their mind,”* and of this opinion must all reasonable people be, by what names or epithets they may be called. I am, &c.

* Six Sermons, p. 13.

(To be continued.)