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ble a contradiction as it is in the power of man to form an idea of. The term being may be predicated of every thing, and therefore of each of the three persons in the Trinity. For, to say that Christ, for instance, is God, but that there is no being, no substance, to which his attributes may be referred, were manifestly absurd; and therefore when you say, that "each of these persons is by himself God," you must mean, and in effect say, that the Father separately considered, has a being, that the Son likewise, separately considered, has his being, and likewise that the Holy Spirit, separately considered, has his being. Now, Sir, if you will be pleased to count them up, you will find that you have got three beings as well as three persons, and what can these three beings be but three Gods, without supposing that there are "three co-ordinate persons, or three Fathers, three Sons, or three Holy Ghosts." If you like an algebraic expression better than this, it will stand thus, 1+1+1=3. Have the courage then, Sir, to speak out, and say what you must mean, if you have any meaning at all, that you worship three Gods.
But you say that "these persons are all included in the very idea of God; and that for that reason, as well as for the identity of the attributes in each, it were impious and absurd to say there are three Gods."* If there be any foundation for this remark, it must be impossible for any man to have an idea of a God, without having at the same time an idea of these three persons; and then either there cannot be any such thing as an Unitarian, denying these three persons in the Godhead, or else all Unitarians are in fact Atheists, having no idea of any God at all.
As you seem to have bewildered yourself very much upon the subject of three persons and one God, I shall enter a little further into the metaphysical analysis of it. By the words being, substance, substratum, &c. we can mean nothing more than the foundation as it were of properties, or some thing to which, in our idea, we refer all the particular attributes of whatever exists. In fact, they are terms that may be predicated of every thing that is the subject of thought or discourse, all the discrimination of things depending upon their peculiar properties. So that whenever the properties differ, we say that there is a corresponding difference in the things, beings, or substances themselves. Consequently, if the Father, Son, and Spirit differ in any respect, so as to
Letters, p. 148. (P.) Tructs, p. 262.
have different properties, either in relation to themselves or to other beings, we must, according to the analogy of all language, say that they are three different beings, or sub
Supposing again, that there is what you call an identity of attributes in each of them, so that, being considered one after the other, no difference could be perceived even in idea, as may be supposed to be the case of three men, who should perfectly resemble one another in all external and internal properties; and supposing, moreover, that there should be a perfect coincidence in all their thoughts and actions; though there might be a perfect harmony among them, and this might be called unity, they would still be numerically three. Consequently, though the Father, Son and Spirit had no real differences, but as you say, they had" the most perfect identity of nature, the most entire unity of will and consent of intellect, and an incessant co-operation in the exertion of common powers, to a common purpose,"* yet would they, according to the analogy of language, not be one God, but three Gods; or, which is the same thing, they would be three beings, with equal divine natures, just as the three men would be three beings with equal human natures.
Had you never heard of the Parmenides, I should have had some hopes of your understanding these modern metaphysics. But though I suppose I have left you far behind (perhaps gone to look into Plato, to see what he says on the subject,) I shall proceed without you, and give the modern reader my opinion with respect to the proper and only intelligible use of the word person.
The term being, as I have observed, may be predicated of every thing, without distinction; but the term person is limited to intelligent beings. Three men, therefore, are not only three beings, but likewise three persons; the former is the genus, and the latter the species. But a person is not less a being on this account; for each man may be said to be a being, as well as a person. Consequently, though the word person be properly applied to each of the three compo nent parts of your Trinity, yet as person is a species, comprehended under the genus being, they must be three beings, as well as three persons.
While you, Sir, are either absent, or wondering at these novelties, I proceed to observe, that the term God is a subdivision under the term person; because we define God, to
* Letters, p. 145. (P.) Tracts, p. 259.
be an intelligent being possessed of all possible perfections. Consequently, if the Father, Son, and Spirit, be each of them possessed of all possible perfections, which you do not deny, they are each of them a person, each of them a being, and each of them a God; and what is this but making three Gods? Avoid this conclusion from these principles, or assume other principles more just and natural, if you can.
These, Sir, if you be within hearing at all, are such metaphysics as you might have learned from Mr. Locke if you had not been, unfortunately for yourself and your flock, poring so long over the Parmenides. You will probably object to my definition of the word person, as applied to the doctrine of the Trinity; but if you give any other definition, I will venture to assert, that you might as well say, that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are three Abracadabra's as three persons. They will be equally words without meaning.
Athanasius, and many of the ancient fathers, after the Council of Nice, became absolute tritheists on this principle, believing that the Father, Son, and Spirit, are no otherwise one, than as three particular men may be considered as one. Athanasius, considering this very difficulty, says, " since the Father is called God, the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God, how is it that there are not three Gods?" He answers, "because where there is a common nature, the name of the dignity is likewise common."* And he illustrates this, by God's calling the whole human race by the name of man, in the singular number, and by Moses's speaking of the horse and horseman being drowned in the Red Sea, when in fact, great numbers of each sort were intended. "If this," says he," be the case with respect to men, who differ so much as they do from each other, so that all men may be called one man, much more may we call the Trinity one God, when their dignity is undivided, they have one kingdom, one power, will, and energy, which distinguishes the Trinity from created things."t
I am far from saying that Athanasius is consistent with himself in this account of the unity of the three persons in the Trinity; for he elsewhere says that there is one God, because there is one unbegotten Father, the sole fountain of deity, &c., but this representation occurs in many of the
* Και πως φησι δυναται λέγεσθαι ὁ πατηρ Θεός, και ὁ υἱος Θεός, και το πνεύμα το άγιον Θεός, και οι τρεις εισι θεοι ; όπε κοινα τα της φύσεως, κοινον και όνομα της αξίας. Communi Essentia." Opera, I. p. 213. (P.)
† Δια το κοινον της φύσεως πασα ἡ οικεμένη εις ανθρωπος εκλήθης όπε δε αμερίσας ἡ αξία, μια βασίλεια, μια δυναμις, και βέλη και ενεργεία, ιδιαζεσαι την τριαδα απο της κτίσεως, ένα λεγω Θεον. Ibid. p. 214, (Ρ.)
fathers, and in my larger history I shall shew to what a variety of other miserable subterfuges the orthodox were driven to maintain the unity of their trinity.
In the dialogue against the Macedonians, written after the age of Athanasius, the orthodox speaker is represented as saying, "As Paul, Peter and Timothy are of one nature, and three hypostases; so I say, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three hypostases, and one nature.
You say,." The opinion of three persons in the Godhead, unrelated to each other, and distinct in all respects, is rank tritheism; because what are unrelated and distinct in all respects, are many in all respects; and being many in all respects, cannot in any respect be one."+ But no relation, let it be ever so intimate, can remove their numerical difference. Let three men be connected in any manner that you can imagine, they can only be one, as partaking of the same nature, and therefore, though they resemble one another ever so much, they can only be said to be similar in all respects; but still they will be numerically three. In like manner, suppose any relations you please, known or unknown, between the three persons to whom the title of God equally belongs, they will no more make one God, than three related men can make one man, but must be numerically three Gods. Councils and Synods, kings and houses of parliament, may decree that three are one, and archdeacons may defend the doctrine, but miracles cannot prove it. As you and your friends say with respect to some late proceedings in the Royal Society, "Two and two ever will be four, and the three angles of a triangle will be equal to two right angles."
But I find it is in vain to appeal to reason, or even to the Scriptures. Your doctrine of the Trinity was not derived from reason or the Scriptures, but from Plato. "I then set
myself," you say, "to consider whether I knew enough of the Divine unity to pronounce the Trinity an infringement of it.' Upon this point the Platonists, whose acquaintance I now began to cultivate, soon brought me to a right mind."§
They did the same good office for Austin before you, and I fear they are still doing the same for others, notwith
Ώσπερ Παύλος, και Πετρος, και Τιμόθεος, φύσεως μιας εισι και τρεις υποςάσεις, οὕτως Πατέρα, και Υίον, και ̔Αγιον Πνευμα, τρεις υποςάσεις λεγω, και μιαν φυσικο "Communi Essentia." Opera, II. p. 269. (P.)
+ Letters, p. 5. (P.) Tracts, pp. 88, 89.
See New An. Reg. 1784, V. pp. -.
§ Letters, p. 163. (P.) Tracts, p. 281.
standing the cautions given us in the Scriptures against the mixture of vain and absurd philosophy with Christianity. You kindly advise me to take the same course. "If," you say, "you imagine that the absolute unity of the Divine substance is more easy to be explained than the Trinity, let me entreat you, Sir, to read the Parmenides. It is, indeed, in Plato's school, if anywhere, that a man's eyes are likely to be opened to his own ignorance.' But, Sir, what must they do who cannot read the Parmenides? I suppose they must go without the doctrine of the Trinity, and like the lower order of Christians in the time of Origen, be content with the corporeal gospel, the plain doctrine of Jesus Christ, and him crucified. But with this the apostle Paul was contented, and so am I.
I have, however, read the Parmenides; and though I expect you will exult over me as usual, calling me," a child in Platonism," and say, that I cannot readily apprehend a Platonic notion when it is clearly set before me,”‡ I have no scruple to declare, that I was not able to get one ray of good sense from the whole of it; I should even think the extracting of sun-beams from cucumbers the more hopeful project of the two. And so far am I from advising the reading of it for any useful purpose, that I should rather say, if a man perceives any incipient cloudiness in his head, and wishes to have the little understanding that he has left utterly confounded, let him read the Parmenides. § I shall say the same with respect to almost all the metaphysics of the ancients; and it is very possible that I may have given as much attention to these things as you have done, though I have not been so ostentatious of it. Any person since the time of Mr. Locke may say this of all the ancients without much arrogance. So far, however, I agree with you, that the study of the Parmenides may do very well by way of preparation for that of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Letters, p. 142. (P) Tracts, p. 255. + Letters, p. 15. (P.) Tracts, p. 101.
Letters, p. 124. (P.)
Tracts, p. 233.
Among other mysteries, as Mr. Sydenham calls them, of the Parmenides, Plato, after shewing that littleness cannot belong either to the whole or the part of any thing, concludes, that "nothing is little but littleness itself," oude TI 851 MIKROY TANY AUTYS TYS OMIXPOTATOS. It would be no bad parody on this to say, Nothing is nonsensical but nonsense itself; and this nonsense (if it can exist in the abstract) is in the Parmenides. (P.)
|| If Plato's school has this talismanic power of opening a man's eyes to his own ignorance, I would advise Dr. Horsley to continue in it a while longer; for this is a branch of science in which he has yet something to learn. Nor will it be amiss if he take his good and able ally along with him; though, as it will lessen his presumption, it may hurt him as a Reviewer, which, no doubt, ought to be considered. (P.)