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The Absurdity of the Trinity Doctrine, article in The Freethinking Christians' magazine 1812
But let us examine this important doctrine contained in one of these creeds, that of St. Athanasius—a doctrine, without the belief of which a man cannot be saved. I would fain quote the whole of this precious morsel, did I not fear I should sully your pages, and tire your readers with such a farrago of nonense, absurdity, and presumption. It states that the Catholic (i. e, the universal) faith is this, "that we worship one God in trinity (i. e. three), and trinity in unity (one);" a falsehood at the commencement, for how can that be universally believed which has always been denied by many?—"neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance; for there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost."
Here then, if they have not confounded the persons, they have divided the substance, for I would leave it to any man of common sense to say, how it is possible for three persons to exist as persons without being distinct substances; for however they may all be composed of the same materials or substance, yet when they are distinguished as persons, it must be by a division of the substance; for though all men proceed from the same cause, and all are composed of the same materials, the idea of person is that which alone distinguishes one substance from another, when formed into the shape of man. It then proceeds to detail the minutia, but as if conscious that no man in his senses could comprehend the mysterious jargon, it adds, "the Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible." One sentence more would have compleated the climax, viz. "and the whole of what we have written is altogether incomprehensible, and therefore ought not to be believed by any man who would wish to be considered sane." After a great deal more equally incomprehensible, it goes on to say, "so the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; and yet they are not three Gods, but one God: so the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord, and yet they are not three Lords but one Lord; for like as we are compelled by the Christian verity (truth) to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say there be three Gods or Lords." This part deserves some serious reflections—in the first place we are told there are three Gods, as plainly as we could be told that Paul, Peter, and James, were three men, by saying Paul was an apostle, Peter an apostle, and James an apostle; and then we are forbidden to believe this in the same manner as we should be taught these (three apostles were but one apostle, by saying, yet they are not three apostles but one apostle; but at the conclusion they are obliged to admit that the whole of this curious article is not to be proved by "holy scripture," for it is acknowledged that one part is taught by the scripture, the other by the Catholic (or universal) church. So then the church does teach something which holy scripture does not, and Jesus and his apostles were not competent to tell us the whole of this sacred mystery; "for (say they) we are compelled by Christian verity (i. e. the holy scriptures) to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord." Yet notwithstanding this compulsion, the church has forbidden them to say what they acknowledge the scriptures compel or enjoin them to do; for it is added, "so are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say there be three Gods or Lords;" that is to say, the scriptures do indeed teach us that there are three Gods and three Lords, but the Catholic church, wiser than the scriptures, forbids us, to say what is there taught. Again, "the Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten: the Son is of the Father alone, not made nor created, but begotten: the Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father not three Fathers; one Son not three Sons; one Holy Ghost not three Holy Ghosts." All this is very plain whether we admit the truth of it or not; but evidently they are, in contradiction to their own creed, dividing the substance; and, therefore whoever believes this must, according to their own denunciation, without doubt perish everlastingly; for if the father is but one father, and the son is not also his own father at the same time, he has another father; and if this father begot him without enquiring how or of whom he begot him, he must to all intents and purposes be distinct in substance from his own father, whom he certainly is not; and if there is but one son, the father of this son must be a distinct substance from this son, for surely he cannot be the father and the son at the same time; for even according to this creed "the Father is made of none, neither created nor begotten." Again "one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts"—-certainly, for it is expressly declared that he proceeded from the Father and the Son, consequently neither Father or Son can be the Holy Ghost, the thing that proceeded from them; and whatever the Holy Ghost might be before he proceeded from them, when he had proceeded or come out from them, he must be a distinct substance from that out of which he proceeded; but lest this should be too plain, and destroy the whole fabric they had been rearing, it is said, "and in this trinity (or three) none is afore or after another: none is greater or less than another; but the whole three persons are co-eternal together, and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the unity (one) in trinity (three), and the trinity (three) in unity (one), is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, must thus think of these things."
Was there ever in this world, among the Pagan priests or Pagan theology, such arrogant presumption, as for men to take on themselves to pronounce eternal damnation upon others for not believing the rankest nonsense that ever was proposed for human belief? He must believe that the Father is no older than his Son, that the Holy Ghost who proceeded from both, and who of course could not have existed before the son was brought forth, was as old as either; that he that was the cause of both their existence was not greater than either. And this is read several times a-year in their political Pagan temples. Surely, the men who read it, and those who submit to hear it without contradicting its damnatory denunciations, never think, or they must be the vilest and most debased of the human race. I knew it is said by many of the clergy, that they omit it, and by their auditors that they do not join in it; but the Christian is called upon to act up to his principle, and to leave a church that professes and imposes such glaring contradictions; especially if we add to this, the whole of their worship partakes of the same idolatry, for in the Litany each is worshipped as God, and at last they are joined together to make a fourth God—"Oh holy and blessed trinity, three persons and one God," &c. But it is said, "he that will be saved must thus think of these things." If this be true, ninety-nine out of every hundred of clergy and laity must be damned; for such I am persuaded is the proportion of those who do not "thus think of these things."
I shall now endeavour to shew, not only the absurdity of this creed and its doctrine, and that it is not only not to "be proved by holy scripture," but is directly contrary thereto. And here let, me observe, by the way, that could it be proved the scriptures taught such a doctrine, it would be the strongest argument against their truth; for a doctrine so absurd, a denunciation so unjust, as to punish men eternally for what they can't understand, would be such a libel on the Supreme Being, that it would afford the strongest ground for rejecting them that could be adduced. Deists might cease to write—the doctrine itself would be the most active agent in obtaining conversion to their system. For my own part, I declare, much as I now reverence the scriptures, and count them the best gift heaven ever bestowed upon man, did they sanction this creed, or the doctrine it contains, I would call my children together, I would collect every Bible I had, and burn them as the most abominable libel that ever was published against the majesty of heaven. But, I thank God, this is not the case; for they not only teach me that such foul impostors would arise who would sit in the temple of God, making themselves as if they were gods; but they also tell me, that their machinations, though they may succeed for a while, shall fail, and that sudden destruction shall come upon them, when they least expect it. We have seen the work began in France, where a wicked priesthood, who had long blinded, insulted, and trampled upon truth and the people, have been swept away with the besom of destruction; and he that has accomplished this, has promised to destroy every antichristian establishment. His word is sure—his power equal to the task; and while we pity the men, we must, as friends to Christianity, hail the day when Babylon the Great shall fall, and truth and Christianity triumph in the ruin of every opposing power. But in the mean time, happy am I to know, that Christianity is chargeable with none of these absurdities; it is a light shining at present in a dark place, but all its doctrines are pure, just, and rational. It wants but fair play—to be delivered from the foul embrace of kings, princes, nobles, and priests—to, enlighten and make happy the whole world. Let us wait patiently—the time will come—the strong pangs of the clergy prove it is not far off—-then shall it be found that the religion of nature, of reason, and revelation, are the same, and handmaids to each other. The more one is known, the other will be approved and admired. Then will men see, that revelation was a blessing from heaven to teach, to illustrate, and- enforce the religion of nature, adding to its benign doctrines the forgiveness of sins that were past, and the assurance of a future life of happiness to the wise, the virtuous, and the good. But this wicked and idolatrous doctrine of the trinity, of three being one, and one being three, which contradicts all our senses, and leads men to worship they know not what—which has deluged Europe with blood and with persecution, with blindness and the most stupid idolatry—will be despised, will be ridiculed, and cast to the moles and the bats, while Christianity will triumph and rise resplendent upon its ruins; for it is contradicted by every part of scripture, by Moses and the prophets, by Jesus and his apostles.
The first law which Moses promulgates is, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord." God, by the mouth of his prophets, continually declares "I am God, and beside me there is none other." Jesus declared that the lawyer spoke right, when he said, "there is none other God but one." Jesus declares that "the Father is greater than he;" and when he prays to his Father, he says, "this is life eternal to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." Here he acknowledges, as plain as words can express, that the Father, distinct from himself, is the only true God; and in his temptation he says, "it is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God" (not Gods); and all the apostles join in the same doctrine. Peter, when praying, addresses the God that made the world, and thanks him for performing a miracle, "by his holy servant Jesus." Paul says, there is but one God, "for though there be Gods many and Lords many, yet to us (Christians) there is but one God, even the Father." This is the general tenor of scripture; so says reason, nature, and common sense; and all the passages that seem to favour any other doctrine, have been proved to be either forgeries, interpolations, mistranslations, or else misinterpreted by blind bigots:, who when they read the scriptures, or enter a church or chapel, leave their reason at the door, and by taking detached parts of scripture, persuade themselves to believe what common sense and a fair examination would teach them to deny.
If what I have stated is correct, and I think I may defy the ablest defender of the church fairly to contradict it, what claim has such a church upon Christians for support? Let them look to the state from whence they sprung; let them be content with their ill-gotten and hard extorted gain, and learn that silence is their best defence—exposure to enquiry must be their ruin. Let them no more persecute men for denying their nonsense; let them not pretend to advocate the cause of Christianity, by prosecuting men for writing against the scriptures or Christianity; but let them leave it to be defended by those who are not interested in supporting its corruption, and whose weapons are not carnal but spiritual. For what can blast the fame of the Christian religion equal to that of such men as Erskine or Gibbs defending and panegyrising it in a court of law, and inflicting civil punishment for religious opinions? Let such characters, and all the bench of bishops and clergy, declaim against Christianity and the scriptures, as being contrary to the religion of the state, and every Christian will be bound to thank them; it will raise their value in the sight of every thinking man: but when men, who hold a creed repugnant to the sacred dictates of Christianity, who are paid enormous sums for keeping up the craft, call the church of England the Christian church, and profess anxiety for the scriptures and Christianity, the contradiction is so great that Christians hear it with disgust, and Deists feel further satisfied that they are right in rejecting such a religion, supported by such persons. Be it my task, and that of every friend to real Christianity, to disclaim their assistance—to give them no more pay or support than what as a political institution the law obliges us to do; and let us pray that the time may soon come in which the wisdom of our government, or the dispensations of Providence, may do away every state religion under heaven, and on its ruins raise the fair edifice of Christianity, to warm, enlighten, and make wise and happy the whole of the human race.
I have dwelt longer on this article than I intended: in my future letters I shall be more concise, but feeling the importance of the subject, I have dilated upon it, thinking this alone sufficient for every thinking man.
A Friend To True Religion